The Observant Jew
By Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz
Q: Which weapon becomes more powerful when you cut off the tip? A: A sword. When you remove the S you are left with “Word,” and one of those can be more powerful than the sharpest blade.
I’m not going to start talking about how words can hurt people, even though of course that is very true. A sharp comment or negative quip can leave painful scars for decades. Instead, I’d like to touch on the fact that what we say can change a person’s perspective forever.
Recently, I saw an old friend who I don’t see very often. We don’t live all that far from each other but our paths rarely cross. I mentioned to him that I had sent him a text message a few weeks back. He did not recall seeing it.
I then told him it was the week of a specific phrase in the Parsha. He smiled, and then said, “oh yeah, I do think I remember seeing that one.”
Why did he smile? Because he and I had shared an experience that revolved around that particular passage. When we were perhaps 18 or 19 years old, we made a Sheva Brachos for a couple who just happened to stop by my friend’s home. Though unplanned, we thought it would be fun to make one that Saturday night, just after Shabbos Sheva Brachos. Over pizza and falafel, the couple and another couple with whom they were friendly, humored us by agreeing to it.
At the impromptu affair, the friend of the choson gave a speech. He began it with a slightly off-color joke based on that posuk. My friend and I were shocked. We couldn’t believe our ears at the time, but I’ve never looked at that those words the same way since.
I had a teacher who told me about a Purim play he saw that made a joke on a posuk in Megilas Aicha. Years later, he told me, he still can’t help himself and he smiles when he sees that line on Tisha B’Av. I asked him what the joke was and to his credit he said, “I’m not telling you. I don’t want you to have the same problem.”
Hearing this, my friend commented how amazing it was that a few words could change how we look at things forever. I have to agree.
However, the knowledge of how this works is a very useful tool. Like anything else in HaShem’s Creation, it can be used for good as well as bad. What it means is that a well-chosen word or approach can change others’ views of things.
Let’s say, for example, that you see someone who doesn’t get her way and she throws a temper tantrum. You could think, “Wow, what a spoiled brat!” It might even be accurate, but how will it make you look at the person years later? An even better question is how it will make others look at her.
However, if you were to look and say, “Wow, that must be so hard for her to not have control over her emotions,” not only would you look at her differently, but anyone you said that too would also be affected. Instead of feeling anger and resentment at the girl’s behavior, you would feel pity. Instead of thinking about yourself, you’d be thinking of another, and that’s a huge difference.
If you took the opportunity to change the focus of others too, you’d be doing a favor for them and for the world. You’d be acting like HaShem, who allows us to have flaws, be human, and He gives us a lifetime to grow and evolve beyond ourselves.
If you saw a couple walking down the street together, and you commented aloud to yourself and your companions, “It’s so nice to see people happy with each other,” they would think of that the next time they saw a couple walking together. They’d start to look for happy, positive, things in the world around them and notice more of them.
In fact, the more you find ways to put a positive spin on things, the more you will change your life and the lives of those around you for the better. What you say has a lasting effect. Now, however, instead of using the blade to leave nasty scars, you can engrave beautiful things on people’s hearts by using words as a tool instead of a weapon.
I know a thing or two about this. After all, words are my artform. Let’s all use them to make the world a more beautiful place.
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