The tongue has the power of life and death,
and those who love it will eat its fruit. — Proverbs 18:21
How much do our words matter? What if we say something hurtful, but no one is around to hear it? What if we aren’t speaking to God, but just talking to ourselves? Do those words matter? How much power can air and sound have on our lives?
According to a verse in Proverbs, our words fully determine our lives. King Solomon put it this way: “The tongue has the power of life and death.” Our words are everything.
Judaism’s Oral Tradition teaches what has become a popular saying: “Words that come from the heart go to the heart.” The traditional explanation of this teaching is that when we say something that comes straight from our heart, it enters the heart of the person we are speaking to.
So, for example, if we tell someone that everything is going to be all right, they will receive the message and believe much more deeply if we really mean it. In fact, when Moses told the Israelites that they were going to be redeemed from Egypt, they weren’t able to receive the message because of their “defeated spirit” (Exodus 6:9). However, the Jewish sages teach that it wasn’t the Israelites’ defeated spirit that was the problem. It was Moses’ spirit. Had he truly believed in his message and delivered it wholeheartedly, it would have been received and believed.
This teaching is valuable because we learn that speaking with sincerity and passion is far more important than being eloquent or exciting. If we want to reach our children, friends, family, or anyone at all, we need to speak from the heart.
However, there is another way to understand the saying. The Sages explain that the teaching can also mean that when we speak from our heart, the words we say return to our hearts.
Just as the physical heart pumps blood through the body by sending out clean blood that then returns to the heart, allowing the body to function healthily, so too, the mouth is the heart of the soul. What we say – what we put out there – returns to us in the most powerful way possible.
So if we say things that are positive, praising God, being thankful for what have, and affirming life all that positive energy returns to our soul. It affects how we live and what we receive from God. Yet, if we speak words of negativity, gossip, or complain in a bitter hopeless way, these unhealthy words, too, return to our heart and to our soul in a negative way.
Today, let’s take this teaching most seriously. Speak only good words from your heart so that they may return to you tenfold.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President