The sanctity of our words

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As we approach the New Year, we take time to consider the year just passed and contemplate the year to come. We have taken time to make peace with those we may have offended and forgiven those who have upset us. Until we have done these two things, we are not ready to ask for Divine forgiveness, which is the essence of this High Holy Day period.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s spiritual legacy is an inspiration for us all. As we approach the Jewish New Year, Jews all over the world are taking time to consider the year just passed and contemplating the year to come. It is believed that during the month leading to the High Holy Days we need to make peace with those we have offended and forgive those who have offended us. Without this, we are not ready to ask for Divine forgiveness— the essence of the day of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s spiritual legacy is an inspiration for us all at signal moments such as these. His teaching reminded us of the significance of our words, which according to Jewish belief, creates worlds. Just as Divinity spoke the world into being, as the story of Creation in Genesis tells us, we too create our world with the words we speak. The biblical story could have stated that God sculpted, painted or sang the world into being as author Naomi Alderman points out in her novel, Disobedience; the world was spoken into life. Our words are sacred. They are tools we use “oh-so-easily” forgetting the power that they carry. We can build families and communities of caring, love and friendship through the words that express our thoughts or, on the contrary, careless, unkind and hateful words, that once uttered are impossible to take back.

The Holocaust, Heschel reminds us, did not start with concentration camps and gas chambers but rather with evil words and defamatory propaganda. We can commit this year to examining the content of our words. In addition to expressing the busyness of our daily lives, how many words do we use, on a daily level, to express our wonder at the miracle of being alive? This sense of mystery connects us to the spiritual patterning of existence. Heschel remind that when we die, we cease to be surprised. Alive, we should be surprised by the miracle of each sunrise as well as find ourselves equally surprised by every unkind word or act we witness. The latter should never allow us to accommodate to the violence all around us. The Jewish New Year does not celebrate the birth or life of an individual, but rather the birthday of the world. What a perfect time for all of us to consider our words to one another as we contemplate the world we are creating for ourselves, our families, friends and communities.