The Tree of Life Heals the Tongue

An installment in the series
From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School
For series introduction click here.
By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz

All of the historical tragedies associated with the 9th of Av are rooted in the sin of the Spies, a sin of Lashon Hara. Anyone wanting to be “part of the solution” that will transform the 9th of Av into a Moed should use all available ways and means to be metaken Lashon Hara i.e. to heal and repair their damaged faculty for speech.

The Midrash Rabbah at the beginning of our Parsha states: HaKadosh Baruch hu declared “Come see how treasured the power of the Torahs tongue is; in that it cures the human tongue….Rebbe Levy said the proof is from our own Parsha. Before Moshe acquired Torah he acknowledged ‘I am not a man of words…rather, I am heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue’ (Shemos 4:10) but once he acquired Torah, his “heavy tongue” was cured and he began to speak. As our pasuk says ‘These are the words which Moshe spoke to all Israel in Transjordan’

Rav Leibeleh Eiger sheds light on this Midrash based on the Gemara in Sanhedrin 99B.

There, the Gemara explains the Psukim in Iyov 5:6 “For Man is born to labor” and in Mishlei 16:26 “The laboring mans soul exerts itself for him; for his mouth compels him.” as follows: Rebee Elazar said: the pasuk in Iyov is ambiguous as to whether man was born to labor physically or verbally. The second pasuk ‘for his mouth compels him’ proves that man was born for verbal labor. Yet, there is still some vagueness as to whether man was born to labor verbally in Torah or in everyday conversation. We gain clarity from the Pasuk in Yehoshua 1:8 “This Sefer Torah shall not budge from your mouth; you should put it into words day and night.”

The upshot of this Gemara is that the human faculty for speech was created exclusively for Divrei Torah. When one wants to utilize their power of speech for words devoid of Torah but catches himself and reflects “Why should I speak? My mouth was not created for this kind of speech! “and when, as a result of this rumination, he changes the subject matter of the conversation to Torah topics, he edifies and “heals” his mouth through Divrei Torah.

This provides us with a deeper insight into Moshe Rabenus assessment that “I am not a man of words…” It is not that he was not being self-deprecatory. Instead he was expressing his profound awareness of the true raison d’etre of human speech. In essence he was acknowledging that, absent Torah, why should a human labor verbally? Why should one speak at all? Of all speech-endowed human beings Moshe Rabenu deserved to receive the Torah and speak its word because of his unique awareness that any speech is impossible without HaShems consent and assistance. But once he did receive the Torah then “These are the words which Moshe spoke to all Israel!” That is to say that only these (i.e.)Torah words which Moshe spoke are capable of being spoken.

We too can achieve the Torahs therapeutic effect on our speech if we come to comprehend, as Moshe Rabenu did, that unless it is in harmony with HaShems will and unless He facilitates it, that no human verbal communication is even possible.

In order to avoid Lashon Hara it’s essential to master the Halachos of Shmiras HaLashon. But to actually cure our sickly tongues, to achieve spiritual oral health and to be metaken the sin of the spies we need to follow Rav Leibeleh Eigers advice and comprehend that; absent Torah, why bother laboring verbally?

As his Rebbes Rebbe , the Kotzker, might have put it “ I don’t want Chasidim who are too frum to speak Lashon Hara. I want Chasidim so engrossed in speaking Divrei Torah that they are too busy to speak Lashon Hara!”

Adapted from Imrei Emes Devarim D.H. B’Midrash Rabbah

4 comments on “The Tree of Life Heals the Tongue

  1. Bob -I think your question addresses the larger issue of is torah everything or is everything torah.?

    As Torah study includes a stipulation of “Ahl menahs laasos ” on condition to fullfill having a friendly lashon hara free conversation that encourages and is mekarev levovos is no less divrei torah than reciting a passage of ahavas chesed s

  2. Shades of Gray,

    I’d like to know if the message/philosophy of this article basically accepts Rambam’s analysis or not.

  3. “In this conception, is there any middle ground between Divrei Torah and Lashon Hara?”

    See link:

    “Maimonides, in his commentary to this mishna, has a lengthy but very worthwhile discussion about speech which we will summarize below. He divides speech into five categories…The simplest answer is that perhaps such speech is useless on its own, but is what we’d call a “hechsher mitzvah” (a preparatory good deed). I.e., its value is in that it will (or might) lead to greater things. And this is sufficient to justify the many steps along the way till one arrives at true friendship. ”

  4. In this conception, is there any middle ground between Divrei Torah and Lashon Hara? Or is anything that’s necessary or desirable to say (for practical, social, other reasons)automatically included in the Divrei Torah category?

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