The Majesty of Words


I was sitting with my young children waiting for an airplane, when my five year old son emphatically announced to me, and everyone in the waiting area, that he had chosen his career. “I want to be a pusher!” he said. From the strange looks I saw on the faces around me, it was clear that I was not the only one shocked by my son’s choice. People were wondering whether the five year old learned about pushing drugs from his father. I was tempted to keep him quiet, but then I remembered how my father zt”l responded to my expressed desire to become an astronaut; he took me seriously. We had a long conversation about what was involved, and we concluded with my father urging me to follow my dreams. I decided to use the same approach with my son.

It turned out that he had a definition of “Pusher,” that was, shall we say, slightly different from that of everyone else in the room. He had been watching the trucks that push the planes back, away from the gate, and he wanted to be that kind of “pusher.”

I learned a tremendous respect for the power of words from my father. It was impossible for me to grow up listening to the way my father read the bible without loving what Shaw calls, “The majesty and grandeur of language.” I was fortunate enough to live among people for whom the power of words was visceral and immediate. We listened to each other. Conversations were intense and respectful. I learned to treasure every word of the Torah. The more important lesson was that unless the sense of the majesty of words was reflected in the way I spoke with, and listened to, others, all the reverence for the magic of the Torah’s words was worthless.

“As God commanded Moses, he counted them in the Wilderness of Sinai.” (Numbers 1:19) Moses counted them the same care and attention as when he listened to God’s command. The man who began by saying, “I am not a man of words,” but eventually became  the Man of Devarim, the Man of Words, took an important step when he counted the Children of Israel. It is in this book of Numbers, the final stage before Moses assumes the mantle of “Devarim,” that he takes an essential step toward becoming the Man of Words: Only the person who will put as much care and concern into counting each individual with the same respect as he paid to, “As God commanded Moses,” could truly become the Man of Words. He spoke to each individual he counted with the same attention he paid to God’s words to him. It was thus he became, not only the expert in God’s words, but in words, in the majesty of language.

We are entering the period when Israel declared at Sinai, “Na’aseh V’nishma,” “We will do and we will hear.” Many ask, “What is the best way to prepare for Shavuot?” The answer is simple: By practicing how we speak and listen. In order for the ‘Doing’ to matter, we must also practice “We will hear.” Listening begins with an appreciation of the majesty of words of people, including our own. I invite you to join me in reveling in the majesty of language in the Torah and in our lives.

Favorites: Words of Life II and Experiencing God’s Love

Our Video conference classes on the Book of Ruth is growing each week.  We received very positive feedback and are trying to make the experience even easier. Please sign up for class #4. Please note that you must register in order to participate. For quick register, click here. You can see the complete series here.
Thank you & Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Simcha L. Weinberg
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