Shabbos Parashas Naso – The Maggid on Prayer, Part 10

Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar HaTefillah, Chapter 6
Our Sages say that offering a prayer to Hashem is like bringing a gift to a nobleman. A gift to a nobleman must satisfy two conditions. First, the gift item itself must be honorable. Second, it must be presented in a respectable vessel. It is similar with the sacred act of offering prayer and thanks to the Sovereign of All Worlds. First, the prayer must be offered with sincere intent and a humble spirit. Second, the person praying must check and make sure that his mouth, the vessel through which he presents his prayer, is pure – that it has not been sullied, far be it, through abominable speech. The Torah exhorts us (Devarim 23:15), “Your camp shall be holy, so that He will not see a shameful thing (עֶרְוַת דָבָר) among you,” and the Sages interpret this command homiletically as a charge to avoid shamefulness in speech (עֶרְוַת דִיבּוּר) (Shabbos 23a). David HaMelech stresses his scrupulousness of speech, saying (Tehillim 17:1): “Heed my prayer, without lips of deceit.” It is unseemly to pray with a mouth that has spoken falsely. It is worse still to pray with a mouth that has spoken indecent or derogatory words.
Our holy books go to great lengths in stressing the importance of responsible speech. For example, R. Shimon ben Gamliel says (Avos 1:17): “I found nothing better for the body than silence.” Shlomo HaMelech declares (Mishlei 18:21): “Death and life are in the hands of the tongue.” And he says elsewhere (Koheles 5:5): “Do not allow your mouth lead your flesh to stray, and do not say before the angel that it was a mistake. Why should God be angered over your voice?” It is written (Tehillim 120:3): “What can He give you, and what added endowment can He provide you, O deceitful tongue?” And David HaMelech says elsewhere (Tehillim 34:13-15): “Who is the man who desires life, who cherishes days, to see good? Guard your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking falsehood. Turn away from bad and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” And our Sages vehemently condemn derogatory speech. They say (Arachin 15b): “One who engages in derogatory speech is like a heretic.” And elsewhere they teach (Vayikra Rabbah 16:6): “Whoever engages in derogatory speech violates the five books of the Torah.” Accordingly, we briefly discuss the severity of improper speech. We begin by explaining the difference between the tongue and other organs of the body.
Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar HaTefillah, Chapter 7 (beginning)
There are three fundamental differences between the tongue and other organs. The first relates to how the organ should be used. With other organs, there is no global rule setting down in absolute terms how the organ is best used; it depends on the circumstances. For example, in most cases it is best to act with alacrity, but there are cases where it is best to act sluggishly. In speech, however, it is always best to be brief. Even in regard to Torah learning, the Sages say (Pesachim 3b): “A person should always teach his students in a brief manner.” All the more so is it with matters of the body; in this vein R. Shimon ben Gamliel said (Avos 1:17): ”All my days I grew up among wise men, and I found nothing better for the body than silence.” The second difference is that the other organs tire when operated for a long time and they need to rest, but the tongue works easily and is always eager to speak; a person always likes having a word on his tongue. The third difference concerns a person’s degree of control over the organ’s operation. There are seven major organs and limbs through which a person interacts with the world around him: the eyes, the ears, the nose, the hands, the feet, the tongue, and the makom ha-bris. If we reflect on these seven organs, we find that they can be divided into three categories. The first category consists of the organs over which a person has full control: the eyes, the hands, and the feet. These organs do not move and are not aroused in any way except under the person’s direction. The second category consists of the organs that operate completely involuntarily: the ears, the nose, and the makom ha-bris. The third category, the middle category, consists of the tongue. If a person keeps his mouth clamped shut and refrains from opening it even for necessities, his tongue is under his control. But if a person allows his tongue to move, it starts working almost automatically, and ends up wandering all over. Thus, Shlomo HaMelech declares (Mishlei 10:19): “In an abundance of words rebellious sin will not be lacking.” Because of the grave dangers associated with the tongue, our Sages composed for us a special prayer to plead with Hashem to guard us from these dangers (immediately after the Amidah prayer): “My God, guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking falsehood.” Similarly, the holy prophets exhorted us strenuously to guard ourselves from improper speech.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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