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Thoughts on the Parashah...

Words of the Heart

Further thoughts on Parashat Mattot...

by John J. Parsons

During his lectures on Jewish values, Joseph Telushkin asks his audience if they can go 24 hours without saying any unkind words about, or to, anybody. Most people say no, they can't. Rabbi Telushkin then commends them for their honesty, but then points out that if he had asked them if they could go 24 hours without drinking alcohol and they likewise said they couldn't, wouldn't that mean they have a serious drinking problem? (Words that Hurt). His point is that if you can't go 24 hours without saying unkind words about others, you have lost control of your tongue. As Yeshua explained, the tongue expresses the condition of the heart, since "from the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Luke 6:45). Therefore the root issue concerns the heart (לֵב), the "midst of the self" that wills, desires, and chooses how to interpret and describe the world. If we choose to see from a heart of fear, we will tend to use our words as a weapon; but if we see with a heart of faith, we will extend compassion and seek to build others up....

In the Book of Proverbs we read, "When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is wise" (10:19). The Chofetz Chaim comments: "When people are preparing a telegram, notice how carefully they consider each word before they put it down. That is how careful we must be when we speak." As James admonishes us: "Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger" (James 1:19).

בְּרב דְּבָרִים לא יֶחְדַּל־פָּשַׁע
וְחשֵׂךְ שְׂפָתָיו מַשְׂכִּיל

be'rov · de·va·rim · lo · yech·dal · pa·sha
ve'cho·sekh · se·fa·tav · mas·kil


"When words are many, transgression is not lacking,
but whoever restrains his lips is wise"
(Prov. 10:9)


Since words represent thoughts, the use of our tongues has to do with how we choose to think... "Think on these things..." We are instructed to "take every thought captive" (αἰχμαλωτίζω, i.e., lead away as a prisoner) to the obedience of Messiah... It is wise to restrain our speech, because, after all, we often have no idea what we are talking about, and therefore our words can become unruly and even dangerous. Whenever we open our mouth to speak, Heaven is listening (Matt. 12:36-37).

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