One day after the reports of what Mr. Trump said speaking about other countries I am still aghast. As I struggle to teach young people how to speak with kindness, respect and dignity, what am I to make of our nations’ leader whose words reflect the most crass and base of human hates and bigotry? And, in addition, whose use of language crosses lines of propriety long acceptable in society?
This incident is a reminder of the importance, for all of us, of how we speak.
The primary way we have to convey our thoughts and feelings with others is with our words. It is for this reason that Jewish traditions place tremendous emphasis on the ability of language to create or destroy, bring a blessing or a curse. As the book of Proverbs teaches: “Life and death is in the power of the tongue.” (Proverbs 18:21).
The word for “tongue” in Hebrew – lashon לשון – begins with the letter lamed ,ל׳ which points up and closes with a final nun ן׳ that points down. This reminds us that the power of the tongue can direct us towards Heaven, building dignity and conveying kindness, or to lead us down into the gutter, cheapening life, denigrating others and hardening our heart.
It is for this reason that we ought to be careful about what we say. Does God hear our words? I think so. But even if you have doubts, our children certainly do. They hear what we (and those who are the role models) in our society say. And they take note. Truly, our reputation and character (whether we are remembered for good or ill) are in the power of the tongue.