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by Lawrence Stroll
Torah from Dixie Columnist

This week’s issue marks the return of Lawrence Stroll’s popular Between Friends column. In case you forgot, this column tracks the e-mail correspondence between two friends. David is twenty-something,single, and non-observant. Ari is thirty-something, married with kids, and a ba’al teshuvah (returnee to traditional Torah observance). The younger friend is at a time in his life when he is looking for “more” (i.e. seeking spiritual growth and personal development) and generally writes to his older friend in search of advice. The older friend tries to provide useful and solid advice by drawing on the Torah portion of that week.

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Dear Ari,

I have got to start learning to control my temper. As I was coming home from work today, this guy nearly ran me right off the road. As I had some company in the car, I refrained from the usual hand gesture that I might have used to indicate that I did not appreciate his less than desirable display of driving. Nevertheless, my mouth got the better of me, and I blurted out a profanity that I might have also refrained from using had I had a little bit more self-control. At the end of the day, it didn’t make much of a difference what I said because, at the very same moment, my passenger was leaning out the window yelling something to the effect of, “Why don’t you watch where you’re going you #@&!$%” When I heard that, I was feeling rather good that I didn’t go that far overboard. Aren’t you proud?

Sincerely, Not that vulgar

 

Dear David, Driving is definitely not what it used to be! You can’t go anywhere without the threat of an accident. Fortunately for you, you got to your destination in one piece. Unfortunately for you, your mouth had an accident. Even if you weren’t as “that vulgar” with your words as your friend, you still would do yourself a major benefit by cleaning up your language. In fact, this week’s Torah portion hints to the necessity for one to watch his mouth.

As we begin the second of the five books of Moses, we are (finally) introduced to Moses. As you will recall (if not from the annual Passover seder, then perhaps from Cecile B. De Mille’s movie The Ten Commandments or Spielberg’s Prince of Egypt), shortly after Moses’ birth, he was sent off in a basket down the river in fear that he meet with the sad fate of other baby boys born at that time in Jewish history. You might also recall that Pharaoh’s daughter finds him, whereupon the text tells us that someone suggests that a Hebrew woman is called to nurse the baby.

Why was it suggested that a Hebrew woman be the one to nurse baby Moses? Rashi, the preeminent Torah commentator, explains that Pharaoh’s daughter handed the baby around to many Egyptian women to be nursed, but the baby refused to be nursed. Why you ask? Because Moses was destined to speak with the Divine presence (a.k.a. the Big Guy Upstairs), and—as we learn in the Talmud —Hashem said, “how can the mouth that will speak with the Divine presence nurse from an unclean source?”

What a profound concept! Because this mouth is destined to speak with G-d, that mouth must be guarded from a source deemed to be unclean. I would suggest, that many a mouth are contaminated not only by the food that goes in, but also by the words that come out of them. And, just as a Jewish person’s mouth is used (or at least should be used) to praise G-d in the form of blessings and prayer (preferably more than the customary three times a year), so too that same Jewish mouth should guard carefully what goes into it as well as what comes out of it.

Now, I’m not saying that we all have to be perfect, but this is definitely a noble level to strive for. If we ever hope to achieve this level of verbal sanctity, then we should avoid taking pride in the fact that we don’t speak as vulgar as someone whose language is more suitable for an x-rated movie. Rather, we should measure ourselves next to those individuals who truly have a command over their speech.

Sincerely, Speechless

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Lawrence Stroll is a financial planner and Family Wealth Counselor with Geller Financial Advisors in Atlanta.

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