A Voice in the Midst
Communication can be very complex when the recipient cannot understand what the individual is trying to express. Communication is frustrating when there’s a breakdown from written language to verbal expression. When we communicate written language in a letter, email, or text, not seeing body language of the sender can leave the reader with uncertainty if there is sarcasm.
If the sender unintentionally leaves out additional information for clarity, it can also be a breakdown. However, the sender could have sent the message with perfect clarity, but the reader could be in a bad mood, or has past issues left unchecked; giving him/her the wrong temperament reading the message with a biased opinion.
Miscommunication can be daunting and hurtful to both parties. It comes down to motives and where our heart and thoughts are when messages are sent or received. Having said that, we need to be additionally careful on social media how we present ourselves. We should never use social media, such as Facebook, to call others out with intentions to shame or embarrass. If there’s a question of concern, a private message would show maturity and honor; looking for the good in others.
Using our voice can be another way to communicate. Having a voice gives one an advantage, in most cases, to express our needs. Our voice can ask questions, give directions, teach, as well as to scream for help. One can read stories to children, sing, laugh, give counsel, and pray with others with a voice. The list goes on. Our voices can be very powerful—the tongue. Trouble arrives when we don’t keep our heart and thoughts in check.
Our tongue can be a blessing or a curse to others, ourselves included. Language can build up or tear down. Our words can breathe life or death into others. Our voice is a gift from Hashem, therefore, wisdom should be used before we open our mouths. Do we want to speak love and life, or like a knife, cut people down by belittling and mocking that shatters them with a broken spirit? How we speak to others exposes and reveals our character and heart. From the heart speaks the mouth. A gentle tone goes a long way. A listening heart and a soft spoken word of encouragement is chesed (Loving-kindness).
We are a product of our thoughts that feed our Souls. We cannot blame others for our failures if we become our own taskmaster. When we settle for complacency, we remain in bondage with an infancy outlook in life; spiritually stagnate.
Let’s imagine we are at the finest restaurant with the most exquisite foods. When the server places our dessert in front of us, what would it (our words spoken) taste like if we had to eat our own words? What taste would our tongue deliver? Would that spoonful be soft, sweet as honey that gives life and hope to others? Life within extends the beauty of Torah into the lives of others. On the other hand, would our words taste like poison that brings death? Would our words taste of death like a rotten carcass left in the heat? Words matter. Words are remembered by our souls.
Our “words” spoken to others, as well as to ourselves can build up and heal. A deeper connection of “words” holds a higher level of meaning; such as, words of encouragement, confidence, compassion, integrity, promise, and g-d- esteeming others. The words breathed out bring Life or Death. It’s a flood gate. The flooding of words can either bring hope and refreshment, or a hot-headed tongue that scorches like a forest fire. Our words manifest from our thoughts to our heart and it comes out of our mouth. Our tongue is a sharp-edged sword. When we cross blades with others, our Father hears and sees. May Hashem see our words of joy and healing.
The words we speak impacts our outlook in life, health included. It’s important to give ourselves chen (grace), to be a friend to ourselves; especially when others may not be available emotionally. It can be discouraging when others are disconnected from G-d’s chesed, but Hashem’s love for us surpasses everything. Hashem gives us His strength and joy. Our Father in Heaven will carry us and wipe every tear shed. Our tears are held in a bottle.
“You keep count of my wanderings; put my tears into Your flask, into Your record.” (Psalms 56:9)
Hashem knows our heart and thoughts. G-d will send trials that’ll reveal the measure of chen we give others. It’s never a good idea to ignore Hashem when He is teaching goodly things. Evil speech (Lashon hara) is destructive and comes in forms of hurtful words such as: shaming, yelling, pointing fingers, lies, gossip, belittling, mocking, derogatory, embarrassing others, especially in public. If one is yelling while the other person is in tears, a heart and tongue check needs to be evaluated with forgiveness requested.
Our words spoken determine who we are within. One should never be humiliated. The measure of rachamim (mercy) , or lack of, is the same measure we will receive from G-d. How much rachamim do we want on Judgement Day? We need to take each step in life in “baby steps,” giving the measure of rachamim to others that we would want to receive from Hashem.
When we listen to gossip, we become a participant in Lashon Hara (evil speech). In other words, as human beings, we are created to be in G-d’s image. The choice is to honor G-d by blessing others with kind words and actions (good deeds), or its opposite that takes on the image of the Beast (beast and man were created on the sixth day) that dishonors G-d and others with evil inclination (Yetzer Hara).
Yetzer Hara takes on the Nefesh (soul/flesh) that acts on impulse. Evil inclination moves us away from the goodness of Hashem with selfish thoughts and/or self-gratification, self-praise (haughtiness), and acts as a self-appointed g-d. The tongue cuts like a knife. Once the harsh word leaves our mouth, it’s too late, it can’t be taken back. We can ask for forgiveness and start over with a change of heart; however, natural consequences of sin can remain.
Lashon Hara is one who speaks with an evil tongue about another person regardless if it’s true, or not. They discredit the character of others with uncomplimentary words. Motzi shem means “evil reports.” One who spreads evil reports is malicious and spreads evil. They are considered a moral leper.
One may say they have never stolen from others; however, Lashon Hara steals love, honor, respect, and trust with disparaging words that leave us uncovered in the eyes of others. The one spoken against, his/her image could be forever altered with a damaged reputation. Lashon Hara takes from G-d’s People. No one knows the work Hashem is doing in the lives of others. Negative words not only leaves people uncovered, but it uncovers Hashem.
We must be careful to not plant bitterness in the hearts of others with hurtful words. There’s a choice to honor people, to show affection for G-d’s creation, or bring harm with a calloused heart. The tongue does not have bones, yet its strength can break a heart.
There is a Chasidic tale about a man who went into the community spreading false reports about a Rabbi. His words were very hurtful, malicious, and slanderous. After a while, he felt guilty about his poor behavior and wanted to make a mends; asking the Rabbi for forgiveness. The Rabbi asked him to return to his home and take some of his feather pillows, cut them open and scatter the opened pillows throughout the room with the window opened for the breeze to come inside. The man thought it was a strange request but simple to do in order to receive the Rabbi’s forgiveness.
Returning to the home of the Rabbi to report what he had done, the Rabbi told him to return home to gather up the feathers. The man said it’s impossible to retract them, the feathers blew everywhere. The Rabbi told the man despite his change of heart and his sincerity to correct what was done, like the feathers, it’s impossible to gather the damage caused with words.
“A man’s belly is filled by the fruit of his mouth; He will be filled by the produce of his lips. Death and life are in the power of the tongue; Those who love it will eat its fruit. ” (Proverbs 18:20-21)
Yetzer Hara is first mentioned in Genesis 6:5—“HASHEM saw the wickedness of Man was great upon the earth, and that every product of the thoughts of his heart was but evil always.”
Our words should be a blessing that grow others in the breath of life, love, and truth; bringing honor to Hashem. When we use our words with Yetzer Hara (evil speak), we are violating G-d’s will and it invites the “spirit of impurity.” G-d’s righteousness doesn’t bow down to corruption.
There are times our voices need to be heard:
What about people with special needs who can make sounds with their voices but cannot speak, or is unable to make any sound due to a medical condition? They need their voice to be heard. Sign language and braille (for those who are blind) can be a blessing so that their “quiet voices” can be heard. Yet, there are others who are unable to use sign language; although, they can use communication devices. When it comes to programming communication devices, programming can be challenging. Some individuals are more advanced than others. Evaluations and observations can usually determine their level of understanding. However, in some cases, those methods are not always accurate. Every person is at a different learning level.
We learn at a different pace. Programming communication boards (iPad or other) for those who are nonverbal can become very challenging as it reveals the density of language. It’s more than a language barrier between two people from different countries trying to communicate. When one isn’t able to demonstrate what he/she understands, creating a device to meet the needs of the individual can be perplexing, especially if the child/adult doesn’t initiate the conversation.
When a communication device is designed to have a voice command state what the photo is, that’s the beginning of a new world for one who is nonverbal. The complexity is revealed when we “up the Ante” on the communication board. We realize that when two verbal people can carry on a conversation about anything, trying to design a touch screen device to mimic “conversations” is impossible. Although a simple question and answer can be programmed, they remain the same until it’s reprogrammed. As an advocate for those without a voice, it’s our responsibility to be that voice. We do our best and allow a lot of patience on each side. The nonverbal person becomes our teacher, and over time, we will reap those blessings when they come pouring out for the glory of Hashem.
No matter what we are able to do in life, Hashem hears our voice. He hears our thoughts and He knows our motives, struggles, plans, desires, fears, and concerns. We can learn from one who is nonverbal. When we enter a facility or a home with a special needs person, it’s important to take a few minutes to show kindness by acknowledging them. One might offer to read him/her a story, mention how nice they look, or comment on their beautiful smile. They are aware who spends time with them and who doesn’t. We are called to love one another—loving-kindness (Chesed).
“Of HASHEM’S kindness I will sing forever; I will make Your faithfulness known to every generation with my mouth. 3 For I said, “Forever will [Your] kindness be built; the heavens, You establish Your faithfulness in them.” (Psalms 89:2-3) 
Language is a gift and so is the ability to hear. Will we hear (Shema) G-d when He calls? This type of hearing is from within. Hashem wrote His Torah upon our hearts. Isn’t it amazing that those who are nonverbal, physically deaf, and find it challenging to communicate with others in written, speech, sign, or with devices can still hear (Shema) the voice of G-d when He calls? In the same breath, those who are blessed with a voice to speak, and given the intelligence to understand written language with perfect hearing can be blind and deaf to the voice of G-d.
“Hear this, O nation that is foolish and without a heart,
They have eyes, but cannot see; they have ears, but cannot hear!” (Jeremiah 5:21)
Moses reminds us that G-d doesn’t seek blind obedience. “‘He wants us to listen, not just with our ears, but with the deepest resources of our minds. If G-d simply sought out obedience, He would have created robots, not human beings with a will of their own.[…] G-d, in making human beings “in His image,” was creating otherness. And the bridge between self and other is conversation: speaking and listening. When we speak, we tell others who we are. But when we listen, we allow others to tell us who they are. This is a supremely revelatory moment. And if we can’t listen to other people, then we certainly can’t listen to G-d, whose otherness is not relative but absolute.’”
Courage is demonstrated when we open ourselves to others; giving someone an opportunity to be heard, understood, and cared for. It’s a spiritual act to listen to others, and to G-d. Listening to others is the greatest gift one could offer. It can be life-changing.
The question remains… how will we speak to others? Do our words edify? This is a very important question. Are we willing to listen to others?
We edify G-d’s creation by acknowledging the value in others. Our choices reveal our character, and our heart. Will we breathe life or death into others? Will we bring blessings or cursing with our speech? Will we honor, or shame and embarrass others? What do our words taste like? I hope our words taste like the sweetness of honey, edifying others with loving-kindness.
Chofetz Chaim reminds us in A Lesson A Day, “‘[…] when anger comes upon a person, he guards the sanctity of his soul and does not allow it to become uprooted and replaced by the “foreign g-d” [that is anger], then he is a person who is fit to be near. However, if he does not guard the sanctity of his soul, allowing it to become uprooted so that the “other side” can dwell in its place, surely he is a person who rebels against his Master, and it is forbidden to seek his company… he is a person who “tears apart his soul in his anger” (Iyov 18:4).’”
Death and Life are in the tongue’s power.
The measure we give others is the measure we receive from G-d. In other words, if we hope to receive rachamim (mercy) from G-d, we need to extend that same amount to others (if not more), ourselves included. When we hold on to anger it is holding on to idolatry.
We never know what Hashem is doing in the lives of others. Like a seed planted in dirt, it remains in a dark place for a certain amount of time to germinate. However, during that time, life is happening. There is movement. We don’t see it on the surface until growth sprouts. There is life in that seed and Hashem is watching. He is watching the seeds, the soil, and the ones planting. He is also watching those who throw toxic weed seeds (hurtful words and poor actions) in His Garden. Our words can either demonstrate kindness through intelligent speech that esteem others, or words of the beast that hurt and tear down like the tearing of teeth from a beast that rips into flesh for pleasure.
Let our words lift up each other in prayer and song. Let our voices call out to Hashem with joy and praises; thanking G-d for everything. Let’s breathe out words of life that bursts forth sprouts of life that encourages others.
Our voice comes through our mouth. Hebrew for mouth (speech and silence) is Peh. Peh also represents the gematria value of eighty. Eighty is “spiritual strength to control the body impulses. A person develops this maturity with ripening age.” (Tiferes Yisrael) Ironically, Moses was eighty years old when G-d sanctified Moses with His words to speak properly. Moses did not remain stagnant in his old age; he continued to learn to serve G-d and others.
“And HASHEM G-d formed the man of dust from the ground, and He blew into his nostrils the soul of life; and man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7) 
Whether our words are verbalized or left in silence, our thoughts bring forth actions, emotions, spirituality, and physical transformation into fruition. Will our basket of offerings be sweet as honey or rotten?
“The heavens declare the glory of G-d, and the firmament tells of His handiwork. Day following day utters speech, and night following night declares knowledge. There is no speech and there are no words; their sound is not heard. [But] their precision goes forth throughout the earth, and their words reach the end of the inhabited world. In their midst He has set up a tent for the sun, which is like a groom emerging from his bridal chamber, it rejoices like a powerful warrior to run the course. Its source is the end of the heavens and its circuit is to their end; nothing is hidden from its heat. The Torah of HASHEM is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of HASHEM is trustworthy, making the simple one wise; the orders of HASHEM are upright, gladdening the heart; the command of HASHEM is clear, enlightening the eyes; the fear of HASHEM is pure, enduring forever; the judgments of HASHEM are true, altogether righteous. They are more desirable than gold, than even much fine gold; and sweeter than honey, and drippings from the combs. Also, when Your servant is scrupulous in them, in observing them there is great reward. by them Your servant is warned; In keeping them there is great reward. Who can discern mistakes? Cleanse me from unperceived faults. Also from intentional sins restrain Your servant; let them not rule me, then I will be perfect; and I will be cleansed of great transgression. May the expressions of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart find favor before You, HASHEM, my Rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalms 19:2-15)
There will be times we feel as though our prayers are not heard, isolated, and alone. Hashem holds every tear we’ve cried, and one day HIS GLORY will rain on us with amazing joy that is “Heavenly Scented.”
We need to remember the ones who are nonverbal that G-d hears them just as much as He hears us. Our words don’t need to be physically vocalized; it is given through breathing life into others with blessings and good deeds. Our voices, silent or not, are heard by the Father. The Torah is the Lamp of His Light—Amen!
The Midrash states, “Words, like the ocean, can be stormy or calm. An evil mouth, like turbulent waves, can destroy and kill. A sharp tongue, like deep water, is feared. Good words, like pearls on the ocean floor, are precious…” (Midrash Alpha Beisa)
As we study Torah with an eagerness to learn, what benefit is a beautiful flower that blossomed in the middle of an isolated desert. In other words, when we are gathered to learn Torah, we acquire wisdom (Chokmah) when to teach, or when to remain silent. We can use our Peh and bring Torah to others to benefit from that same wisdom.
“My G-d, guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking deceitfully. To those who curse me, let my soul be silent; and let my soul be like dust to everyone. Open my heart to Your Torah, then my soul will pursue Your commandments. As for all those who oppose and who design evil against me, speedily nullify their counsel and disrupt their design. May it be your will, Hashem, my G-d and the G-d of my forefathers, that human jealousy may not rise up against me, nor my jealousy upon others; may I not become angry today, and may I not anger You. Rescue me from the Evil inclination, and place my heart submissiveness and humility. O our King and our G-d, cause Your Name to be unified in Your world; rebuild Your city, lay the foundation of Your House, perfect Your sanctuary; gather in the scattered exiles, redeem Your sheep, and gladden your congregation. Act for Your Name’s sake; act for Your right hand’s sake; act for Your Torah’s sake; act for Your sanctity’s sake. That Your beloved ones may be given rest; let Your right hand save, and respond to me. May the expressions of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart find favor before You, Hashem my Rock and my Redeemer.” (The Complete Artscroll Siddur)
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My spirit within you, and I will make it so that you will follow My decrees and guard My ordinances and fulfill them.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27)
 Psalms 56:9, Sefaria
 Proverbs 18:20-21, Sefaria
 Genesis 6:5, The Stone Edition
 Psalms 89:2-3, The Stone Edition
 Jeremiah 5:21, The Stone Edition
 Genesis 2:7, The Stone Edition
 Psalms 19:2-19, The Stone
 Ezekiel 36:26-27, The Stone Edition