A person only connects to the higher levels through speech, it is the entire honorable part in him. It is called the "living soul" of a man since the rest of the parts of the body die. And if a person loses this good part, the body remains dead and like an unwanted vessel. Therefore we are required [by halacha] to keep our word b’divrei Shamayim... And regarding all other matters, even though there is no positive or negative mitzvah associated with them, the chachamim commanded and emphasized that a person should never fail to keep his word. (Sefer HaChinukh 350).
We often remind our children of the importance of keeping their word. Even if a child didn’t promise to do something, we expect her to keep her word.
This is a corollary to our exhortations to never tell a lie. If lying is a sin of commission regarding speech, then failing to keep your word is a sin of omission regarding speech.
It must sound to them that speech is easily abused and leads to sin. While this is true, it leaves children with the impression that their words are only powerful tools to wield carefully lest you do harm.
How often do we teach children how much they can accomplish with their words, how much good, how much healing, their words can bring?
I recently heard a story about a teenager who discovered the power of three words that he expressed, the impact his three words had on others, and what he learned about himself.
I will omit names.
The storyteller began by assuring us that he had researched and verified the story. Then he began:
The story is that there is a fellow who lives in Scranton, Pennsylvania, his name is Rabbi __, a Chassidishe Rav. He has a Shul.
But most unique about him is the fact that he's Ger Tzedek from Puerto Rico.
He is a dynamic, personable, very special person very multifaceted, multi talented, in fact, as a professional violinist, plays publicly and one day a baala bus from Scranton goes over to this Rabbi __ and says, Rabbi, I need you to talk to my 14 year old son Moishie. Moishie is struggling with life, is struggling with identity. He's struggling with Yiddishkeit. Can you talk to him? Can you inspire him? And Rabbi ____ said, I'll be honest with you, this is not my forte. I'm a Ger Tzedek, he said, I've never dealt with that population. I don't know. I don't know what you want me to even say to him.
And the father said, talk to my son, you're an inspirational person, spend some time with him. You never know, maybe you'll light a spark.
He said, sure, my pleasure. Tomorrow I happen to be driving way, way deep into Pennsylvania, to the factory that's going to service my violin. I go there a couple times a year. And I'll be happy to take him with me. We'll go on a road trip together. And we'll schmooze, I'll get to know him.
The next morning they get in the car and they drive down to the factory. Now the owner of this factory is a devout Christian who is a Bible lover. He loves the Old Testament, he studies the Old Testament. And in conversation he introduced 14 year old Moishie. He said, I will tell you something interesting. This boy Moishie descends from Levy, from Levy in the Torah. He's a direct descendant of Levy.
Interesting, the manager says, really? Like you could actually trace this lineage all the way back? He said, yeah, ask him So he turns to Moishie. You come from the original Levy, the Old Testament? He said yeah, look at my Tefillin bag, it says Levi on it.
The manager goes to the PA system, picks up the microphone and says, I would like all factory workers to meet in the main conference room right now. There is a Levite in the building, and he is going to bless us. He's going to give us a blessing.
And Moishie looks at Rabbi ___ and says, what did you get me into? And Rabbi ____ says listen, I really wasn't expecting this. I didn't know. I was just making conversation but you got to go along with it or it could be a Chilul Hashem. You can't just ignore his request.
Okay, what should I say?
Just say G-d bless you. You'll be yotzei. You're done. We'll continue our day.
Seventy people crammed into the conference room. The manager gets up and says "there is the Levite, he's going to be blessing us! One by one!”
And little Moishie is trying to find a hole big enough to hide and he does not know what to do with himself. He turns to Rabbi ____, “I'm not doing this. I can't do this.”
He goes over to the first person timidly, shyly. "G-d bless you." And the whole room erupts AMEN!
He goes to the next person, “G-d bless you.” AMEN!
They're screaming. The next person, the next person, the next person. By this time Moishie's getting a little more confident. He saying “G-d bless you.” Amen. “G-d bless you.”
And suddenly, Moishie breaks down hysterically crying. And he turns to Rabbi ____, and he says, in my entire life, I never realized how special I am. And if I'm this special to these people here, how much more special must I be to my people.
And I want to share something with you. Sometimes we can forget how special we are. Sometimes we can go through life, not realizing our specialness, not realizing that with every single step that we take. Every word of Torah, every tefilah, every chessed bein adam la'chaveiro, bein adam la'Makom. Every time we take a step we're becoming kodesh kadashim, more and more special.
Teach your children how much their words can mean to others. Words like, refuah shleimah, mazel tov, I’m glad to see you, thank you for helping me, I love you.
Make sure they hear those words from you.
Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor with specialties in marriage, dating, and parenting.
He is the author of Confident Parents, Competent Children, in Four Seconds at a Time Available at bookstores and on Amazon.
He can be reached at 718-344-6575.