Our Speech and Society's Moral Fabric
By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim
Just before God destroys the cities of Sedom and Amorah, He chooses to inform Avraham of the imminent destruction:
“And the Lord said, ‘Shall I conceal from Avraham what I am doing? And Avraham will become a great and powerful nation, and all the nations of the world will be blessed in him. For I have known him because he commands his sons and his household after him, that they should keep the way of the Lord to perform righteousness and justice, in order that the Lord bring upon Avraham that which He spoke concerning him.’” (Bereishit 18:17-19)
These verses are somewhat perplexing. What is the connection between Avraham becoming a great and powerful nation and God’s feeling ‘compelled’ to share with Avraham His plan to destroy the cities? The Talmud (Yoma 38b) says that we learn a fundamental lesson from this: When God speaks of Avraham, He immediately blesses (and praises) Avraham. Similarly, when we mention a righteous person, we must bless and extoll that righteous person. There is a verse in Proverbs (10:7) that states: “The memory of the righteous is for a blessing and the name of the wicked will rot.” Just as we are to speak positively of the righteous, we are also instructed to speak negatively of the wicked.
According to Maimonides, the purpose of praising the righteous is not to somehow assist the righteous and the purpose of speaking badly of the wicked is not to harm the wicked. Maimonides explains that we are commanded to praise and bless righteous people, because this encourages us and others to emulate their ways, improve ourselves, and strive for greatness. We are commanded to speak disparagingly of the wicked to make their actions despicable in the eyes of humanity.
The way we speak of righteous and wicked people matters greatly. It influences the moral fabric of our society!