Speech Has the Power by Chaim Metzger


In the beginning of Parashat Matot, Moshe begins his exposition on the laws of vows with the phrase, “Zeh HaDavar Asher Tzivah Hashem,” “This is the matter which Hashem has commanded.” On the spot, Rashi, quoting Sifrei, comments that this unusual construction, as opposed to the standard “Koh Amar Hashem,” “Thus says Hashem,” uttered by so many of our Neviim, comes to teach us that Moshe experienced a higher form of Nevuah than did other prophets. How does “Zeh HaDavar” indicate a greater level of Nevuah? Furthermore, why does the Torah first point this out in the context of the laws of vows?

The Sefat Emet differentiates between the two types of prophecy. Amirah refers to narrative, while Dibbur connotes influence and causation. Koach HaDibbur connects the prophet and those hearing his words. To most prophets, Hashem communicated with dreams and riddles, while Moshe could “see” the message of the Nevuah. His higher level of connection is signified by a phrase using the Dibbur form of prophecy. Similarly, there are two levels of human communication: informational and instrumental. The paradigm of human speech that has a tangible, instrumental effect is a Neder, a mere utterance which creates a full-fledged prohibition upon the avower. By using “Zeh HaDavar” specifically in regards to Nedarim, the Torah is teaching us that we have the ability to elevate our powers of communication to the level of Moshe Rabbeinu’s unique prophecy.

We should be careful not to abuse our power of speech, be it through Lashon HaRa, profanity or swearing falsely or in vain. This is an important lesson that should be applied whether we are talking on the phone, text messaging, chatting with friends or e-mailing, because words, no matter the medium, have great power and should not be misused.

-Adapted from Torah Insights by Emanuel J. Adler

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