As one Arab regime after another falls, I am reminded of the famous line, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” The ability to instantaneously communicate through social networking sites was key to the wave of revolutions that are convulsing the Arab world. These people have felt a seething resentment toward their oppressive governments for decades. But it remained inactive until a critical mass of people were able to communicate that resentment with each other and mobilize. How powerful words are.
The Torah teaches us that speech is a divine gift and a defining trait of mankind. It is one of the ways in which we are made in the image of G-d. Notice that when G-d created he did not merely “will” the world into existence, although He certainly could have done it that way. Instead G-d spoke the world into existence. He said, “Let there be light,” “Let there be seas” and “Let there be man.” It seems clear that the Torah is telling us that speech is a divine, powerfully creative trait. Imagine — G-d has shared this ability with you.
The ability to speak is shared with no other earthly creature. Although all animal life communicates in some fashion, their communication is rudimentary and concrete. Basically, animals communicate to physically survive. But human speech is categorically different and far greater than mere animal communication.
Consider what our world would be like without words. Without words one generation could not pass on its knowledge to the next. Each human generation would die with all it had learned. The following generation would have to rediscover the same information on its own. Finance, technology, medicine, civil law, manufacturing and all other components of civilization could never develop because all of these require the gradual accumulation and communication of knowledge through the generations. Without words, we would live in caves.
Without words life would be empty and purposeless. We could not communicate our values or ideals. Values and ideals would not even exist. How would we define them without speech? There could be no Jewish people or Torah. There could be no constitution or Bill of Rights. In fact, there would be no rights at all, or for that matter, “wrongs.” Life would be vicious and brutal. Might alone would rule.
Life would be a lonely experience without words. You could not tell your wife or children or friends, “I love you” or “I miss you” or “I need you.” How would we connect without words? How would we forgive each other or repair hurts? There would be no way to communicate our inner feelings of joy or sadness, fulfillment or loneliness. Without words, we would live in isolation, surrounded by people but cut off from their essence, their souls.
G-d gave you the ability to use words because He loves you. Aren’t you grateful? How have you used your divine gift of speech today?
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)