Spectacular Speech

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20 Mar 2020

Naaleh_logo Shiur provided courtesy of Naaleh.com

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

The adaptation of this shiur was written l’iluy nishmat Chaya Sarah bas Mattisyahu Halevi/Sandra Koplowitz

The essence of the enslavement experience culminating in our redemption can be encapsulated in the verse we cite near the beginning of the Seder: “An Aramean attempted to destroy my father. Then he descended to Egypt and sojourned there…” The standard interpretation from Rashi is that Yaakov was forced to descend to Egyptal pi hadibur/by (because of/through) the word. First, how do we derive that Yaakov was forced to descend from “he descended?” Further, whose word was it, and what word forced Yaakov’s descent to Egypt?

The Mesivta Haggadahoffers two explanations. Ordinarily, when one goes from one place to another, the Torah would write, “Vayelech/he went.” Here the Torah uses the unusual word “descended,” implying that he did not go of his own free will. Further, before Yaakov went to Mitzrayim, Hashem reassured Yaakov, telling him not to be afraid, and that He would be with Yaakov throughout his sojourn there, and He would go up with Yaakov when Yaakov would return. If Yaakov then went down to Mitzrayim, it was not of his own choosing but because of Hashem’s word reassuring him. Even so, Yaakov’s initial plan was to go down to Mitzrayim, see Yosef, and then return to Canaan. But Hashem further told Yaakov that He would make Yaakov a great nation in Mitzrayim, telling Yaakov that he was not meant to return to Canaan immediately.

What was Yaakov afraid of? He was certainly not afraid that his physical necessities would not be met. After all, Yosef was the Viceroy of Egypt. Yaakov was, however, afraid that he would not be able to maintain and grow spiritually outside the sanctity of Eretz Yisroel. Even though he left because of the famine, and even though Hashem reassured him that He would be with him here, Yaakov still was unhappy to leave the sanctity of Eretz Yisroel, writes Rabbi Ezrachi in Birkat Mordechai. Further, Yaakov was concerned for his family’s spiritual integrity in Egypt in the future, add the students of the Slabodka Yeshiva in Chevron. Therefore, Hashem spoke to Yaakov at night, symbolic of the impending darkness of exile, to reassure Yaakov that although his descendents will be oppressed, the oppression would strengthen their inner spiritual identity. Finally, writes Hashir Vehashevach, Hashem reassured Yaakov that he should not blame himself for having caused the suffering of his descendents by leaving Eretz Yisroel, as, generations later, Avimelech and his two sons died when they left Eretz Yisroel for Moav during a famine. [This too would be part of God’s plan/word, to bring Ruth into Bnei Yisroel and initiate the final redemption through her descendent, Moshiach ben Dovid. CKS] This descent was preordained from the time of Hashem’s covenant with Avraham Avinu, telling Avraham of the enslavement and redemption of his descendants.

Because Rashi does not specifically identify the speaker or the word, other commentators follow a completely different perspective. From Rav Pinchas of Plotzk, a disciple of the Vilna Gaon, we are offered the idea that the descent to Egypt was a punishment for dibur/speech, referring to the lashon horo/negative speech that Yosef related to his father concerning his brothers. Yosef was guilty of speaking it and Yaakov was guilty of listening to it, and so Yosef, Yaakov and their descendents were punished by exile in Egypt. [One who contracts tzoraat/”leprosy” for speaking lashon horois “exiled” outside the camp as well. CKS]

Halekach Vehalebuvpoints to one time Yaakov Avinu spoke uncharacteristically, seemingly laying blame on his sons for [further] embittering his life by telling the Egyptian viceroy that there is another brother. This slip of tongue opened the door for the descent into Egypt and the ability of the Egyptians to enslave Bnei Yisroel.

Everything that happens in the world, good or bad, personal and universal, can be traced back to man’s words, notes the Chofetz Chaim. When did Hashem reveal the prophecy of the enslavement to Avraham Avinu? After Avraham’s war that freed his nephew Lot, Hashem promised Avraham a great reward. Avraham then asked Hashem, “What can You give me seeing that I am childless?” The dialogue continues, Hashem promises Avraham biological children as numerous as the stars, and Avraham asks, “…whereby shall I know that I will inherit it.” It is after this question [This shiur will not discuss the varying nuances of Avraham’s words] that Hashem reveals to Avraham the terrifying future his descendents will experience.

But harmful speech does not end with Avraham Avinu. [Because of the unbelievably high moral standard our forefathers set for themselves, these verbal slips carry much more weight than they would for the average person.] When Rachel Imenu was childless and she pleaded with Yaakov to “give her children,” Yaakov answered truthfully, but perhaps with a tinge of harshness, “Am I in instead of God Who has kept children from you?” Years later, after Yaakov’s death, Yaakov’s other sons fear retribution from Yosef for having sold him. Yosef responds to their pleas with the same words their father had used toward his mother before his birth, “Am I instead of God? This was God’s plan.”The descent to Egypt rectified the words spoken earlier.

Speech created the reality of our world and continues to create the reality of worlds, notes Rabbi Gamliel Rabinowitz in Tiv Hahaggadah. Our words create our own situations. Yaakov was forced to go down to Egypt through his own speech.

Rabbi Mattisyahu Solomon discusses the power of our speech more fully, basing his discussion on the writings of Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin. On the one hand, “Your voice is sweet,” (Shir Hashirim). On the other hand, “She raised her voice against Me, therefore I hated her.” ( Jeremiah 12:8) And we are told that, “Life and death are in the control of the tongue, and those that love it shall eat its fruit.” (Proverbs 18:21)

Hashem created Man in His image, an image Onkelos translates as “a spirit that speaks.”  Just as Hashem used speech to create, so can we create as well with speech. Will our speech create beautiful edifices here and in heaven, or will they create destruction. We should use the power in positive ways, to study Torah, to uplift others. Eat the fruit of speech so that it is sweet and constructive. Our speech has an impact both in this world and in the heavenly spheres. We should fear the damage we can do in heaven even if we do not see that damage now.

The Torah commands that the matzot/korbanotbe eaten in a holy place. (Vayikra6:9) When we had our Beit Hamikdosh, this certainly meant that the sacrifices should be eaten in that holy place. Since we no longer have a Beit Hamikdosh, Halekach Vehalebuvputs a different interpretation onto this mitzvah. Rabbi Schorr reads the matzotas the mitzvoth, and the holy place in which we eat is not only our homes but also our mouths. Be careful, he warns, that our mouths reflect the sanctity of the matzot and the mitzvoth, be careful that our mouths aren’t contaminated with the impurities of “chametz.” In fact, in our search for chametz, we should check our mouths first, that no improper speech be found there. This is especially true because the mitzvoth of the Seder all involve the mouth, “Tell it to your children,” “You shall eat matzoh.” The mouth must be pure. Therefore, continues Rabbi Schorr, we left Mitzrayim on Peh Sach, the power of positive, pure speech and are commanded to transform the Peh Ra/Paroh/negative, evil speech to the positive speech.

Continuing the analysis of names and words associated with the Pesach experience, Rabbi Schorr dissects the name of Mitzrayim. It begins with a lower case, open letter memand ends with a final, closed mem. Between them is the yetzer. Similarly, the Talmud begins with an open mem/meiaymasi and ends with a closed memin shalom. Everything included between the two are words of Torah. Similarly, our mouths should open with words of Torah and close when we no longer have words of Torah or positive speech to communicate. We should not be distracted by our yetzer/inclination. As the Prophet Isaiah says (57:19), referring to the contrite who return to Hashem, “Shalom, shalom/Peace, Peace for the far and the near, said Hashem, and I will heal him.” When we create words of peace to those far and near, Hashem will also be near. If we use our words for the negative, we are distancing ourselves from Hashem. Be careful to say Shalom, shalom to everyone. Be careful to speak positively and refrain from spreading the negative. Our tongue is guarded by a set of teeth and two lips to keep it from “running off at the mouth.”

Certainly in this crisis, reminds us Rebbetzin Smiles, we should be using all our communication tools to spread opportunities for chesed and report on them, to raise each others’ spirits rather than dwell on the gloom and doom.

Bnei Yisroel had indeed fallen into the trap of negative speech, writes the Be’er Chaimciting the Imrei Emes. Moshe wondered why Bnei Yisroel kept suffering through this enslavement. He got his answer when he tried to separate to Jewish men fighting, and one asked him. “Do you mean to kill me (Do you mean to speak my death) as you killed the Egyptian?” Now Moshe understood not only that his killing the Egyptian was known and he had to flee for his life, but also that Bnei Yisroel were now speaking evil against each other, thereby deserving their terrible situation. But we each have the power to comfort and uplift others with our words. When we refrain from using speech to help our neighbors, we are committing sins of omission. That’s why the leper, when he was healed, brought two sacrifices, one for having spoken lashon horoand the other for having neglected to speak lashon hatov/positive speech.

Citing the Chazon Ish, the Be’er Chaim notes that the entire purpose of Torah, lilmod al menas la’asot, is that we never hurt another person with our words. Words have the power to invigorate, to give life, as the end of the Shabbat prayer states, “Mechayeh meisim bema’amaro/Who resuscitates the dead with His utterance.” Apparently, even hearing words can affect outcomes. When Reuven heard the brothers wanting to kill Yosef, he intervened and offered a counter action, hoping to return and save him later.

Even today, when the world is in social lock-down, we can still “reach out and touch someone,” give someone a virtual smile and positive words. Learn some Torah with someone over the phone. By using the power of speech for the positive, for reciting Tehillim, prayer, Torah, encouraging and validating others, we may equally merit the end of our current exile.

Sam Derechexplains the depth of Hashem’s plan. Just as in the Purim narrative, every detail preceding our descent to Egypt appears to be completely natural, occurring over an extended period of time with all the players acting according to their own free will, it was still Hashem Who was coordinating all these events that eventually led us down to Egypt. It is on the night of Pesach, in hindsight, that we see Hashem’s omnipotent hand orchestrating the events of history, adds Tiv Hatorah. What Hashem wants to happen will happen. When people make mistakes, when they act out of character, Hashem is preparing the way for the result He desires, writes Rabbi Solomon.

The ultimate purpose of the world, writes Rabbi Feldman in The Juggler and the King, is for all to coronate Hashem as King. To this end, there are two parallel forces of Divine Providence at play, individual free will and compelled by His word. All the circumstances one finds himself in are part of Hashem’s script. Man acts freely within that preordained script, and his reward and punishment may be delayed until his soul reaches its final destination in the afterlife. Yaakov and Bnei Yisroel played out their parts, and Hashem manipulated the events to fulfill His purpose in creating the nation that would be a light unto the world.

The lock-down initiated by the Corona virus is undoubtedly part of God’s plan. Perhaps He doesn’t want us “trampling His courtyards” with improper speech in shuls designated to His service. Perhaps we can pray with even greater fervor in solo intimacy with Hashem within our personal four walls. Perhaps we have the extra moments to consider our speech before we phone our friends or reach out to a lonely neighbor. We have the ability and the free will to use these challenging times to strengthen our connection to Hashem and to His children in this world. We have the ability to begin the coronation process of crowning Hashem as King that the corona virus has afforded us. May Hashem keep us all healthy, and may we see opportunity in the challenge Hashem has given us.

Sandra Koplowitz always spoke calmly and pleasantly to everyone. She found the good in others and in difficult situations, and always tried to make things better. May her memory be for a blessing.

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