Guarding the Tongue

The Abir Yaakov tells us that our main function and tikkun (rectification) in the world depends on that which we speak. King Solomon says, “All man’s toil is for his mouth” (Ecclesiastes 6:7). The words of prayer and Torah that we say create worlds above. When we remove ourselves from physicality, we will realize that the most important thing is our lofty words that are spiritual and are our life force.

The power of true speech is unique to humanity. Every holy word we speak rises up to the heavens above and attaches itself to its spiritual root in the upper worlds and rectifies them.

The opposite is also true, G-d forbid. We can destroy spiritual worlds through our speech. Our Sages tell us that lashon hara (disparaging speech) is equal to idolatry, forbidden relations, and bloodshed (Arachin  15b).

King David warns us, “Who is the person who desires life, who loves days of seeing good? Guard your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit” (T’hillim 34:13-14). Unfortunately, most people are not concerned with guarding their tongue. King David is warning us that improper speech prevents a person from cleaving to holiness and creates a barrier between the person and Hashem.

The Abir Yaakov explains that we are being warned by King David, “Who is the person who desires life?” — who wishes to achieve holiness in this world? And, “who loves days of seeing good?” — this refers to the World to Come, where we will find eternal life, goodness, and delight. If a person desires these things, then one must “Guard your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit.” The life we seek depends on our ability to guard our words, so that our words will rise above, enabling us to attain holiness.

Based on Pituchei Chotam: Insights on the Weekly Parashah by Rabbi Yaakov Abuchatzeira, The Abir Yaakov, Bamidbar — Devarim, Parashah Mattot, Artscrcoll

Light Coming from Darkness

This week’s Torah portion occurs as we begin the month of Av. Rav Tzadok, the Pri Tzadik, points out a remarkable paradox (Pri-Tzadik, Rosh Chodesh Av 1). As we enter the month of Av, a sense of gloom sets in as we recall the national tragedies that have befallen our people during this month. Both our First and Second Temples were destroyed and our people were exiled from out Land.

Despite this, the halakha requires us to sing the Hallel in celebration of the new month. Also, the Sefer Yetzira explains that each Hebrew month is associated with a particular Hebrew letter. The month of Av is associated with the letter tet, which is the letter from which the light of life emanates (Zohar Chadash 152a).

The question is, “How can the letter associated with life, light, and goodness be associated with a month filled with so much tragedy and misfortune?” Rav Tzadok reveals that the highest level of light and goodness always emanates from the darkness. When Hashem created the world, “It was chaotic and formless, darkness loomed over everything… Then Hashem said let there be light and there was light. Then Hashem saw that the light was good…” (Genesis 1:2-4).

Rav Tzadok explains that whenever a letter or word appears for the first time in the Torah, the context in which it appears reveals its essential meaning. In this case, both the words tov (good) and ohr (light) first appear in the Torah in the context of the chaos and darkness in the beginning of creation.

Our Sages tell us that the creation of light in the above verses referred to not just a physical light, but also to the spiritual light of Divine goodness. Rav Tzadok tells us that this supernal light always emerges from darkness and turmoil, just as it did in the beginning of creation.

On the one hand, the Beit HaMikdash (the Temple), referred to by our Sages as the “light of the world,” was destroyed. Since then, ever-increasing layers of darkness that accompanied the month of Av have cast a rather gloomy shadow over us.

However, our Sages saw the benevolent light of creation veiled within the darkness. As Rabbeinu Yona writes,

One who places his trust in Hashem should always be filled with hope and anticipation that even in the midst of his most intense anguish and tribulation, the darkness will itself bring the light… ‘To my enemies [I say] do not rejoice because I have fallen for even as I sit now in darkness Hashem is my light’ (Mikha 7:8), upon which our Sages comment: Had I not fallen, I would never have risen, had I not sat in the dark I would never have had light (Sha’arei T’shuva 2:5).

In the midst of our national or personal troubles, this can be a very powerful and encouraging thought.

Based on Rav Tzadok HaKohen On the Parsha: Based on Sefer Pri-Tzadik, by Rabbi Yitzchak Schwartz, Masei