Noach/Lech Lecha
Noach/Lech Lecha

Noach/Lech Lecha

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It is not Just What We Say...

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

The Torah prohibits various categories of speech. Speaking negatively about a person is forbidden. When the content of the negative speech is true, the prohibition of lashon harah (evil tongue) is transgressed. When the content of the negative speech is false, then the prohibition of motzi shem rah (literally, bringing out a bad name) is transgressed. Transmitting information that can create strife and conflict among people is prohibited under the category of rechilut. Saying harmful words which hurt a person’s feelings is prohibited under the category of Ona’at devarim.

In Parshat Noach, the Torah teaches that both pure and impure animals (kosher and non-kosher) came with Noah into the ark before the flood. The Torah expresses this fact in the following way: “From the pure animals and from the animals that are not pure [asher einena tehora].” We know that every letter in the Torah is there for a specific reason and that the Torah does not use letters unnecessarily. The above verse could have been significantly shortened (by eight Hebrew letters) and simply have stated ‘From the pure animals and from the animals that are impure [temeiah].’ Why does the Torah use extra letters and a more cumbersome form “animals that are not pure” when it could have simply been stated “impure animals”?

The Gemarah (Pesachim 3a) addresses this question. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: A person should never express a crude matter, as the formulation of a verse was distorted by the addition of eight letters rather than have it express a crude matter. To refer to an animal as temeiah (defiled) is a crude, unrefined manner of speaking. The Torah is teaching us that even while engaging in speech that is permitted, one should be careful to express one’s speech in a refined manner.

It’s not just what we say that counts, but also the language we use to express ourselves. This is part of our mandate to conduct ourselves in a holy fashion. The Torah requires us to be a refined mensch.