Say What!

The words one expresses are extremely powerful and effective. We see how binding and serious speech is from the laws the Torah presents concerning expressing oaths and vows.

Although the Torah tells us, “Do not profane your words,” in the context of keeping one’s vows, commentators apply this to all aspects of our speech – to recognize the power of speech we are entrusted with and not to misuse it. The Torah continues, “Everything that one says, he should uphold.”

I will share two stories concerning great people which illustrate the power of the communicated word.

Rabbi Mordechai Leib Kaminsky lived to a very ripe old age. His mind was sharp and he remained in good health to his last moment.

Someone once asked him to what he attributed his longevity?

He responded by relating the following incident:

Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan o.b.m. who is known by the pseudonym, Chofetz Chaim, was a prolific writer. He wrote books concerning the sanctity of speech, and opened the eyes of the world to the laws of Lashan Harah – what is permitted or forbidden to say about others.

The Chofetz Chaim also wrote a six volume series called the Mishna Brura – a classic masterpiece explaining and codifying the Shulchan Aruch – code of Jewish Law – on the section dealing with day to day living. It took him 28 years of intense and diligent study and research to complete this series – which is until today, the primary source for Halachic guidance.

When the Chofetz Chaim would complete a volume of his work, he would travel from his town of Radin to various towns in Europe and personally sell his books in the local synagogues.

Rabbi Kaminsky related: I once noticed a man selling a sefer – book – and I went over to check it out. It looked very interesting so I bought the volume. I did not know that the person selling it was the Chofetz Chaim himself.

A few years later when the Chofetz Chaim completed another volume he came back to our town to sell his book and I eagerly went over to buy it. This time the Chofetz Chaim asked me my name. I told him Mordechai Leib Hakohain. The Chofetz Chaim then took out his ledger and said I think you owe me some money from the last time I was here. I told him I had paid it in full. He responded, ‘I believe you, I must have made an error.’ The Chofetz Chaim continued on to the next town. When he was there in Shul a man came over to him to buy his book and introduced himself as Mordechai Leib Hakohain and told the Chofetz Chaim, “I am paying you for this book plus I am paying you up for what I owe you from the last book.”

The Chofetz Chaim immediately realized that two people in two towns shared the same name and he mixed them up. He felt that he had to make amends with the person in the previous town who he suspected of owing him money. So he traveled back, sought me out, and came to my house to ask forgiveness for accusing me. I said it is quite okay I never felt bad about it. The Chofetz Chaim said no, “The Talmud states that one who accuses another wrongly owes them a blessing.” The Chofetz Chaim asked me what I wanted him to bless me with. I really did not know what to respond. He said, “How about longevity?” I said, “What is that worth if one becomes senile and weak?” He told me, “I am a Kohain and I’m giving you a full hearted blessing for long life with complete faculties and good health throughout! I said Amain.

I therefore attribute my longevity, clarity, and good health to the blessing of the holy Chofetz Chaim. His pure mouth, that never spoke Loshon Harah, had the power to effect such a potent blessing!

Another story that I read relates to the great Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky o.b.m., the chief rabbi of Vilna before the war. A Rabbi passing through Vilna stopped by Reb Chaim Ozer to receive his blessing. Reb Chaim asked him where he was traveling. He told him he had traveled from his town to attend a funeral of a rabbi in a town neighboring Vilna, and he was heading home. Reb Chaim Ozer thought for a moment and then asked, “Did a certain rabbi eulogize at the funeral?” He responded, “Interesting that you ask. He actually got up on the makeshift podium to deliver the eulogy but it collapsed and he required medical assistance and did not wind up delivering a eulogy.”

After the visiting rabbi left, one of Reb Chaim Ozer’s attendants asked him, “Why did you specifically ask if that rabbi had eulogized?”

Reb Chaim responded as follows: A good many years ago these two rabbis had a disagreement and they came to me to adjudicate. In the midst of the heated arguments, one of the rabbis who had wonderful oratory skills got so upset he blurted out, “I will not eulogize you at your funeral!”

Reb Chaim Ozer observed. Many years have passed and the two rabbis got along with each other and settled their issues. However, the statement that the rabbi made of not eulogizing the other rabbi – remained in place.

That is why I asked. And look what happened, the statement he made years earlier – remained in effect! That’s how careful we have to be in regards to the words that leave our mouths!