Jewish World Review Sept. 25, 2001 / 8 Tishrei, 5762

It's good to talk

By Rabbi Pini Dunner -- CAN you imagine living a life without speaking? There are certain monastic orders that live a life of contemplation, never communicating with each other or anyone throughout their lives. The contention is that by desisting from speech completely you ensure that your mouth will not become contaminated by things that shouldn't be said --- even if they are said innocently or inadvertently.

Are you comfortable with that? I'm not. It's analogous to never crossing a road because you might get run over. In fact, abstention is a concept that is antithetical to Jewish thought. Other religions revel in certain absolute restrictions as an ultimate realization of spiritual fulfillment. By denying the human body of what it craves physically, they teach, one purges it of its base materialism, allowing the vacuum to be filled with spirituality and G-dliness. Judaism rejects this.

As Jews, our task on this world is to harness G-d's creation and use it in every way possible, so that every divine spark can be united with its ultimate purpose. Some of those creations are elevated through use and others through rejection. The same spiritual goal is achieved by eating kosher meat as by not eating bacon. Not to eat meat at all, however, would be a denial of the spiritual value of meat. Sex within marriage has a spiritual value on par with abstention from illicit sexual contact such as incest and adultery.

Speech is just the same. Our most powerful tool for the good can so easily become a weapon wielded for the bad. Harnessing our power of speech so that we can enhance our spiritual status is probably the most difficult challenge we face. Out of the thousands of words we say every day, how many are devoted to a spiritually elevating agenda? That's why we are given prayers to say that can enable us to have a focus for our power of speech. Even this is not enough.

Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav insists that every Jew, indeed every human being, must find time to converse with G-d. Using your mouth and your vocal chords to conduct a conversation with your Creator. What an incredible way of using your power of speech.

I know that you don't need to be convinced of the importance of speech. We spend most of our lives talking. In fact, our relationships with everyone we know are defined by how we communicate with them through speech. But maybe you need to be convinced about the power of speech in connection to our relationship with G-d. How can we expect to ever achieve a dialogue with G-d if we never started talking to him in the first place.

Yom Kippur is quickly approaching. This year, come to shul, synagogue. Indeed, come during the year, as well. Don't wait for it to happen. Make it happen.

It's good to talk.

Rabbi Pini Dunner is the spiritual leader of London's Saatchi Synagogue, a Jewish center geared, but not limited, to Gen-Xers. Comment by clicking here.


© 2001, Rabbi Pini Dunner