Spiritual Tools: Alshich HaKadosh: The Power of Speech
The 13th of Nisan is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Moshe ben Chaim Alshich (1508-1593). The sins which can be committed by misuse of the power of speech are so serious that the Rambam already lists five categories of speech: One. Prayer, Torah study, Torah reading. Two. False testimony, slander, cursing one’s fellow man. Three. Talk about goings on in the world and in one’s neighborhood. Four. Extolling the virtue of knowledge, wisdom, and denigrating ignorance. Five. Talk needed in order to secure one’s livelihood, such as business conversation.
Our sages have regulated our lives so that the power of speech is employed more than any other organ in our bodies. This is meant to reflect the fact that God has endowed us with a pure soul. We pray three times daily, study Torah by day and by night. We have many stories of our sages telling us that when the power of speech is employed constructively, angels congregate to listen to Torah scholars discoursing. One need not be brilliant to realize therefore that if men can be elevated by means of his Tongan he must never abuse it and risk the lofty status he has achieved. Defiling ourselves by wrongful use of our tongue must therefore be avoided at all costs. Abuse of the power of speech can be subsumed under seven headings:
1. Flattery, misrepresentation, and attempt to put oneself into a favorable light.
2. False information and tale bearing.
3. Frivolity, ridicule and deliberate exaggeration.
4. Verbal fights, insults, and provocations.
5. Revealing other people’s secrets and disgracing the family by indiscretions.
6. Deliberate libel and instigating baseless hatred.
7. Use of coarse language.
The true cause of all the above it is idle talk. When one opens one’s mouth with out a constructive purpose, one creates the opportunity to cause harm by means of one’s tongue. I consider the benches in the public parks as invitations to idle chatter, eventually resulting in frivolous talk.
The Mishnah (Avot 3:3) already states that when two people sit together and they do not make taller of the subject of their conversation that there get to gather is considered an assembly of scoffers! The reason is that I know, harmless talk is bound to degenerate into harmful talk. Since it is very difficult to keep one’s mouth shut all the time when not discussing Torah, one should at least avoid making other people the subject of one’s conversation. (Alshich HaKadosh; Shemot 28:31)