Words, Words, and More Words
When G-d gifted Adam with a Nefesh (human soul) he was also endowed with
power of speech. The ability to speak, the ability to use words to
thoughts and feelings, set him apart from every other creature on the
That isn't to say that the human is the only creation with the ability to
communicate. As we know, many if not all of G-d's creatures communicate in
manner distinct to each of them. However, the human is the only creature
create or destroy through the power of speech. Allow me to explain.
All other creations communicate in some primal but limited fashion. For
example: warnings of impending danger, parental and offspring
litter, flock, school, pod, and nest dynamics. These are the studied and
documented settings for the instinctual communication of species survival;
that is all it is, it is communication not speech. On the other hand, the
can speak. He can choose to speak and communicate or chose not to speak
communicate. (And of course the most common and frustrating of all, the
who chooses to speak and still does not communicate). The human is capable
speech not just communication.
The Mishnah in Avos states that, "With ten statements G-d created the
Whatever that really means, whatever the power of G-d's speech is, however
the dynamics of Divine speech may work, Chazal (the Rabbis) referred to it
speech. That means that Chazal compared our speech, as limited and
contained as it may be, to the speech of G-d and His power to create.
it is incumbent upon us to view speech as a powerful and potentially
"Who is the one that desires life? Guard your tongue from speaking
Following the verses's line of reasoning we must add, "And who is the one
does not desire life? The one who does not guard his tongue from speaking
Human speech creates and destroys. With words we can paint unframed
that are only limited by the extent of our imagination. With words we
realities of emotion. Words generate love, fear, hatred and courage. Where
desire does not exist words can often generate it.
Ambition and determination, success and failure, reputation and its
are all the products of words. With words we wound and with words we heal.
and peace can rise and fall on the power of words.
Words allow us to express complex thoughts and feelings. With words we can
make the profound simple and the simple profound. Knowledge is conveyed
words and laughter finds its truest expression in the word-talent of the
With words Avraham argued for justice and compassion. With words G-d
commanded the sacrifice of Avraham's one and only, and with words the
Satan stole away
Sarah. Avraham mourned Sarah with words and with words he negotiated the
purchase of Meoras Hamachpeilah.
Eliezar was enjoined through the power of words to seek out Rivkah, and
words Yakov bought the birthright of Eisav and the salvation of a world.
words Yakov promised G-d he would be faithful and with words G-d promised
Yakov that his children would become His chosen and inherit the Land.
the undoing of Yakov's well-laid plans for first marrying Rachel and
Lavan, and it was overheard words that warned Yakov when it was time to
to his father's home.
Words describing dreams were shared with the brothers and they hated
because of them. At the same time, the words they hated implied a truth
Yakov could not ignore, "and his father guarded the words."
Conspiring brothers sealed Yoseph's fate with words while Reuven's
words would have saved him. It was Yoseph's words of fear that they then
to ignore while with words they negotiated his sale for the price of shoes.
Words were the medium of Yoseph's fall and they proved the manner of his
stellar rise. Words were given to protect a king's confidence and the same
would guarantee Yoseph's final confidence to his father. Yakov blessed his
children with words and thereby defined the reality of his nation.
With words Pharaoh introduced his nation to anti-Semitism and swayed them
enslave and persecute the Children of Israel. It was their words of
that rose up to the heavens and began their redemption.
Moshe killed the Egyptian with words and with words he confronted the
hatred between man and his fellow man. Words forced Moshe to flee from his
people and G-d's words from a burning bush commanded him to return and
With words Moshe and Aharon awoke their people to the impending redemption
and with words they presented G-d's majesty and power.
At the Parting of the Sea, it was the absence of words that revealed G-d's
greatness and it was Moshe and Miriam's words which immortalized the
divine exaltation and song.
With words G-d revealed Himself to all from atop a mountain and the tragic
response to Chur's words forced Aharon to use other words in hope of
Moshe's Prophecy, the Written Torah, recorded G-d's words to His chosen
children while the Oral Torah explains those very same words in a way that
Miriam's questioning words were intended to help Moshe and Tziporah but it
was Moshe's few words that were then needed to heal her leprosy.
The Miraglim destroyed a generation with the timing and inflections of
words, and the lone challenging words of Kalev and Yehoshua earned them
personal greatness and deliverance.
With words Korach rebelled against G-d and Moshe and for all eternity his
words rise up from the depths of Gehenom (Hell) to confirm the trueness of
The evil Bilam attempted to destroy us with the power of his words but
instead those same words were converted into an eternal source of
strength. It was with final words that Bilam advised Balak as how to
the Jewish people but words alone would not have sufficed to save the
from G-d's anger. Pinchas's zealous action proved to be more powerful than
words, and with words of love G-d conferred upon him His covenant of peace.
With words the Jews complained for water and with words Moshe was to have
quenched their thirst. Instead, Moshe's unspoken action would silence his
and left Yehoshua to write the final words of his prophecy.
Concern for promissory words began last week's two Parshios, because words
are powerful, plentiful, and cheap. Yet, words are also the medium of our
service to G-d, the manner in which we convey wisdom to our children, the
expressions of our heart, the brilliance of our minds, and the only way we
As Moshe began to relate his final prophecy to the Bnai Yisroel he
where and when he was doing so. The place and time of Moshe’s final words
begin the end of the Torah were to be inscribed in the collective memories
the nation and their descendents so that the stark majesty of the Moabite
plains and mountains would forever echo with the awesome humility of G-d’s
“With Moshe’s death, all of his physical personality will depart. Only a
description, recorded in the most precise terms possible, of the place
people heard the last of his faithful words, will be handled down to
so that, if some day a late descendent of the Children of Israel will come
this place, it may perhaps echo for him these words and inspire him to
them faithfully in the midst, and for the good, of his people.” (Rav S.R.
1st and 2nd Aliyot:
Moshe recounts the history of the 40 years from after the 2nd Luchos,
the request by the people to send the Spies. (Pasuk 12 is read to the tune
Eicha - Lamentations) He notes the establishment of the Sanhedrin and the
3rd and 4th Aliyot:
The incident of the Miraglim - Spies and its terrible consequence is
Remember, the sin of the Spies and the decree for that generation to die
in the desert occurred on Tisha B'Av 2449, 3316 years ago.
5th and 6th Aliyot:
Moshe's historic review jumps 38 years during which the decree of the 40
years was carried out and focuses on Israel's encounter with the nations
Eisav, Moav, and Amon. The battles with Sichon and Og and the acquisition
Trans-Jordan are retold.
Trans-Jordan is given to the 2 1/2 tribes, and Yehoshua is encouraged to
these victories as a promise of future success in taking Land.
Haftorah Devarim - Isaiah 1:1 - 1:27 - The Third Haftorah
The Shabbos preceding Tisha B'Av receives its name, "Chazon", from the
opening verse of the Haftorah. Starting with the words "Chazon Yishayahu -
of Isaiah", we fearfully hear the echo of the Prophet as he decries
betrayal of G-d. (1:11-15) Boundless selfishness, greed, misuse of power
those in authority, and oppression of the defenseless widow and orphan is
Navi characterizes the people as "the lords of Sodom and the people of
Hearing Yishayahu's indictment of the people, one would think that the end
was near. In truth, Yishayahu began to prophesies in 3142 (619 b.c.e.) and
Bais Hamikdash was destroyed in 3338 (423 b.c.e); 196 years before the
Clearly, the Navi's intent was to effect change in hope of averting the
destruction. If so, our reason for mourning on Tisha B'Av must be better
"The Jew does not mourn that thousand of years ago the Temple was
but that it had to be destroyed. Not over the destruction, but over the
of its destruction". (S.R. Hirsch)
If only the people would have heeded the cry of the Navi! If only they
have foreseen with the clarity of a prophet's vision what it means for G-d
"draw back his protecting hand" (1:25) from Israel!
Shabbat Chazon transports us back in time. We stand in the shadow of the
Hamikdash. We hear the word of G-d as the Navi beseeches His children to
Teshuva (repentance). Will we listen? Would we listen?
Laws of Erev Tisha B-Av on Shabbos & Tisha B'Av
Some Poskim forbid learning Torah after 1:00 PM (Chatzos) on Erev Tisha
except those topics permitted on Tisha B-Av. However, many others permit
This year, Erev Tisha B-Av is Shabbos, Aug. 13. Mincha will be at 6:00 to
give enough time to eat Shalosh Seudos. The fast begins at 7:44. Not
drinking and all other restrictions, except wearing leather shoes, go into
effect at sundown, 7:44. The prohibition against wearing leather shoes
the beginning of Mariv immediately after Boruchu. Leather shoes should be
removed after 8:29 PM. Be sure to bring non-leather foot wear to shul
Tisha B'Av, like Yom Kippur, is a 24+ hour fast, with additional
The following are prohibited: Eating, drinking, wearing leather shoes
(referring to leather construction such as the soles or uppers, not
leather strips or
ornamentation), washing any part of the body, marital relations, and the
of creams, lotions, or oils. Anti-perspirant and medicinal ointments for
rashes and irritations are allowed. Netilas Yadayim is performed by
till the knuckles. Women do not go to Mikvah on Tisha B'Av night.
On Tisha B'Av the following additional customs reflect our status as
1. Until 1:00 p.m., we sit on the floor or a low stool (not higher
2. Like an Avel, we should not greet each other all of Tisha B'Av.
3. It is forbidden to learn Torah all day except for those topics
the laws of mourning or the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash.
4. One should not go to work on Tisha B'Av; however, if you must,
it is best
do so after midday - 1:00 p.m. Tisha B'Av is not to be used as a day to
up on housework or repairs.
5. Tallis and Tefillin are first worn at Mincha, and Tzitzit should
be put on
in the morning without a Bracha.
Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Torah.org
The author is the Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley
Village, CA, and Assistant Principal of YULA.