Shabbos Parashas Behaalosecha – The Maggid on Prayer, Part 11

Sefer HaMiddos, Shaar HaTefillah, Chapter 7 (end)
There are three reasons why our prophets and sages stressed so heavily the need to guard our speech. One reason is the ease of speech, which we have already discussed. The other two reasons are the crucial role of the faculty of speech and its great susceptibility to damage.
We discuss first the crucial role of the faculty of speech. Just as the intellect marks the difference between man and the animal world in regard to internal faculties, so, too, the tongue marks the difference between man and animal world in regard to external faculties. Now, the sole reason man was endowed with intellect was so that he could recognize his Creator, devote himself to serving Him, love and revere Him, and trust in Him. In the same way, the tongue – the most eminent of all organs – was meant to be used as a holy service vessel, to thank and sing praise to Hashem for extending us the great kindness of making us His ministers, as it is written (Tehillim 65:5): “Fortunate is then one whom You choose and draw near to dwell in Your courts.”
As we have already mentioned, the Gemara in Yevamos 64a teaches that Hashem yearns for the prayers of the righteous. Our main duties as ministers to Hashem – studying His Torah, praying to Him, and thanking Him – depend on the tongue. Accordingly, even without a Biblical exhortation, our intellect would lead us to conclude that we must not profane the tongue by employing it inappropriately, just as a sacred vessel must not be employed for mundane uses. In discussing the incense offered in the Mishkan and the Beis HaMikdash, the Torah commands us not to make a compound of the same composition for other uses, saying (Shemos 30:37): “It shall remain holy to you, for Hashem.” We should have the same attitude toward the use of the tongue.
Our holy Sages have already commented on this matter. They teach (Yoma 19b): “One who engages in idle speech violates a positive Torah commandment, for it is written (Devarim 6:7), ‘And you shall speak in them [words of Torah]’ – and not in idle words.” Now one might think that one violates this commandment merely by keeping silent, based on the reasoning that regardless of whether one speaks idly or keeps silent, either way one is not speaking in Torah. But our Sages did not see the matter this way; they regarded only idle speech as a violation of the commandment, and not mere silence. Their reasoning is based on the principle we just explained: Since our tongues are meant to be used for the sacred duty of speaking in Torah learning, it is improper to use them for idle speech.
We now discuss the care required with the faculty of speech on account of its susceptibility to damage. We all know how careful people are with delicate and expensive instruments such as a craftsman’s precision knife. A person reserves a precision knife exclusively for its intended use; he does not use it for coarse jobs such as cutting bones, for this would ruin it and make it unfit for its intended use. For this reason, it is forbidden to move tools of this type on Shabbos; they are in the category of muktzeh meichamas chisaron kis – one has no business moving them on Shabbos, since they are set aside exclusively for a non-Shabbos use. Now, seeing that we are so careful with the tools we use for worldly tasks, how can we possibly not be careful with the power of speech?
Speech is a special gift from our Creator, granted only to man, and to no other creature. Hashem meant for us to benefit from the power of speech by using it for lofty spiritual tasks. These tasks are both exquisitely delicate and supremely important. In describing the pursuits of righteous men, David HaMelech declares (Tehillim 149:6): “The lofty praises of God are in their throats, and a double-edged sword (חֶרֶב פִּיפִיּוֹת) is in their hands.” When the righteous pray, their mouths (פִּיהֶם) act as the swords they use to fight their enemies. This is the special endowment Hashem granted us. Our mouths have the wondrous power to destroy all the partitions that separate us from Hashem, and to set down glorious spiritual plantings that bear fruit in the upper worlds.
How careful we must be to guard our power of speech and not damage it! R. Shimon bar Yochai declared (Talmud Yerushalmi Berachos, ch. 1, halachah 2): “If I had been at Mount Sinai when the Torah was given to the Jewish People, I would have asked Hashem to give man two mouths, one for learning Torah and one for tending to all his [worldly] needs.” He was led to make this statement because of the two features of speech we discussed above: its great loftiness and holiness, and its great susceptibility to damage through frivolous words.
Now, a person might think that the idle talk he engages in at a given time will spoil only his future prayers and Torah study, but not the Torah he has already learned. But our Sages teach otherwise. They say that every idle word that goes through a person’s mind displaces a word of Torah that he previously learned (Shir HaShirim Rabbah 1:21). In view of this principle, we can understand at a deeper level the teaching that the command to speak in Torah incorporates a charge not to engage in idle talk. Our Sages are saying that idle talk constitutes a violation of the command to speak in Torah because the idle words that a person speaks nullify his previous fulfillment of the command. How can a person not be careful not to lose the Torah learning he has already acquired?
Shlomo HaMelech writes (Mishlei 5:1-2): “My child, heed my wisdom, incline your ear to my [words of] understanding, so as to preserve [wise] designs, and let your lips guard wisdom.” When a person restrains his mouth from idle talk, his wisdom is preserved, but when a person opens his mouth to speak idle words, his wisdom escapes to oblivion, in the same way that a storeroom for treasures with an open door is routed. Shlomo is telling us to keep constant watch on our mouths to safeguard our knowledge and wisdom. Then the Supreme One will watch over us, sustain us, and enlighten our eyes with the light of His Torah.
This concludes the series on prayer.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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