The Power of Words
The Sedra of Devarim is traditionally read on the Shabbat preceding the fast of Tisha B’Av which commemorates the tragic destruction of both Temples. But what could be the connection between them?
Rabbi Ozer Alport of Aish America tells a story - one day two friends meet on the bus. In the course of their conversation, one of them casually mentions the name of a mutual acquaintance. The other replies, “You didn’t hear? She’s just got engaged, last week, to so-and-so!”
This news left her friend both elated and shocked. “That’s so wonderful that she finally got engaged…but to him! A person with so many problems?”
Excitedly, the one who shared the news agreed and proceeded to list problems not only with the groom, but also with his family. The conversation went back-and-forth, with each of them heaping more and more question marks on the match.
After five minutes, a woman sitting behind them interrupted, “I know you didn’t realise, but I’m the aunt of the bride you’ve been discussing. We obviously didn’t know about these serious allegations against the groom and his family. As soon as I get home, I’m going to call my niece to convince her to break the engagement.”
Aghast at the unexpected turn of events, the friends begged her not to do so. They explained, “We were just gossiping. We didn’t mean the things we said, and they may not even be true. Please don’t break-up the engagement because of our indiscretion.”
Just then, the bus reached her stop. She paused before exiting and said “you have nothing to worry about. I’m not really her aunt…but I could have been!”
The Talmud (Yoma 9b) teaches us that one of the reasons for the destruction of the Temple was ‘the sin of baseless hatred between Jews’. Many times such hatred emanates from ill-judged communications and lashon hara. Sometimes people who speak negatively even try to justify their behaviour by rationalising that mere words cannot cause real damage to other people.
Since the outcome of such mistaken thinking eventually led to the destruction of the Temple, we allude to the importance of avoiding this sin (whether face to face or electronically), by beginning the week in which Tisha B’Av falls, with the reading of Parshat Devarim, “Devarim” meaning “words”.