Everyone’s Talking, But Who’s Speaking?

There’s a lot of noise out here in the blogosphere.

When President Obama sneezes, the blogosphere goes wild, not only about the sneeze itself, but also in analysis of the sneeze, and a blog roundup of what others are saying about the sneeze.  You might see a list of the Top 10 Sneezes of 2009.  There is little room to take the time to realize that the sneeze was a symptom of the flu.  Obama has the flu.  Now that’s a story!  (This is just a silly, exaggerated example.  Please don’t link to me in your Obama blog)

One of the most pinching moments of my experience learning Torah in Israel was amussar lesson on the significance of speech.  What we say and how we say them really matters! This drive for self-improvement that is a focal point of Torah Judaism is something that many people seem to miss and may be a large reason why many Jews turn to Buddhism, and other Eastern practices.

The “pinch” came when I was learning אגרת הרמב’ן Nachmanides’ letter to his son.  It touched upon something that I was keenly aware of as an online journalist but never knew how to deal with.  When something “newsworthy” happens, the inclination, in this 24-hour  news cycle era of journalism that we live in, is to react.  Pains are taken to be the first to get the story and to post it on the web.

There’s a tension behind it, of course.  You don’t want to just be first.  You want to be the first to accurately report the news.  Being first and being accurate sometimes get in each other’s way.

Learning a foreign language, as I am doing right now, teaches you to pay attention to the nuances of what specific words mean.  I think most English speakers understand that “hearing” is not the same thing as “listening.”  I’m not sure if a parallel can be drawn between “talking” and “speaking,” but I’d like for there to be a way to convey that.  You can talk at someone, or you can speak to them, with intention.

As I’ve spent more time around people who have developed themselves through Torah learning, I’ve found that it can be those who talk the least, really have the most to say when they speak.

This week’s Torah portion, Lech-Lecha, is a very significant one for me in my journey into Torah.  It’s a portion that I studied intensely in a skill-building Chumash class.  It taught me, among many other things, to pay attention to tiny detail.

In last week’s portion, Noach, we see the first time that Gd speaks to a human, using וידבר.  Before that, when Gd speaks, it’s always in the form of ויאמר.

Noach is famous of course, for herding all the animals into an ark in order to save them as Gd wipes out the rest of the earth by flood. There is something significant about the fact that Gd chose a flood as the means to destroy all creatures. What Gd was primarily upset about was the misconduct of his human creations and their lack of boundaries, and sexual licentiousness in particular. People were mating with every animate object at their disposal, unbounded, just as water flows freely.

After forty nights and forty days, and Gd tells Noach that he and all of his family can leave the ark, along with the animals. The way that they exit the ark is described in a slightly different order than when they enter. We learn from Rashi that this new order teaches that sexual relations, which were prohibited on the ark, have now been permitted. The state of relationships has equilibrilized.

The thing that strikes me about this particular scenario, is that Gd is saving life on Earth through a partnership with Noach.

In Bereshit/Genesis, the world was created through acts of speech, using the verb ויאמר.

ויאמר אלקים יהי–איר ויהי אור (Beresiht/Genesis 1:3)

The oral tradition also teaches about Gd’s ability to create through speech.

בעשרה מאמרות נברא העולם

In ten utterances, the world was created. (Chapter 5:1)

Gd did not need anyone’s help to create the world, but for some reason, he used human help to prevent it from being entirely destroyed, and then he speaks to Noach, and their relationship morphs from that of master – servant, to something a little bit closer.

From there, Gd blesses Noach and his sons. and the rest of the portion generally focuses on the lineage of Noach and his sons, which leads us finally back to this week’s portion, Lech Lecha, which begins:

ויאמר ה אל אברהם לך לך מארצך מלדתך אל הארץ אשר אראך

And the Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you. (Bereshit/Genesis 12:1)

I’ve been able to follow in the foosteps of my forefather to come to the land that Gd has chosen.  My hope is that the collaboration of divine guidance and personal effort that made Noach’s salvation of the world and Avraham Avinu’s journey successful, sets an example for all who seek that partnership in all matters, both large and small.  The power to create and to destroy worlds lies in what comes out of your mouth.


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Ilene Rosenblum is a writer and marketing professional living in Jerusalem.

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