Watch Your Tongue

Yael Eckstein  |  July 13, 2020

Three women laughing and talking over coffee.

When a man makes a vow to the LORD or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said. — Numbers 30:2

Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is a double reading, Matot-Massei, from Numbers 30:2–36:13. Matot means branches, and Massei means journey.

When I first arrived in Israel and began speaking Hebrew, I was struck over and over again by the sheer beauty of what we call the Holy Language in Judaism. It is full of wisdom and meaning. In Hebrew, when two words are spelled alike or sound alike, it’s no coincidence. The words can have seemingly unrelated meanings, yet there is a profound connection.

For example, the words davar and dibur are spelled exactly alike in Hebrew. Yet, davar means “thing,” while dibur means “speech.” From this we learn that our words are not fleeting puffs of air filled with momentary sound. Our words are “things” — they are concrete, powerful, and the very foundation of matter and reality. In fact, God Himself created the world with words. (See Genesis 1:3.)

This is why the Bible takes our words so very seriously. In this week’s reading, we come across the laws regarding vows. The first law reads: “When a man makes a vow to the LORD…he must not break his word but must do everything he said.” The basic understanding of this verse is that when someone makes a vow — gives his or her word — it is binding. Our words are not to be taken lightly.

But there is a deeper understanding of this verse that drives home the point of just how powerful our words really are. Jewish tradition teaches us to read the verse this way: “…he (God) must not break his word but must do everything he (the man) said.” When we understand God as the first “he,” we learn that if we speak good things into our lives, God will bring good things into our lives.

Likewise when we speak words of defeat, hopelessness, and despair, we invite corresponding events. Proverbs 18:21 puts it this way: “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” If you love life and you cherish the power of the tongue, then you can harness its power and enjoy the fruits of your speech.

I use the following acrostic to help me guard my words. Before we speak, we need to THINK. Is it Truthful? Is it Helpful? Is it Inspiring? Is it Necessary? Is it Kind? If we can’t answer “yes” to any of these questions, then we are better off saying nothing.

Your turn: What reminders do you use to help guard your speech? I would love to hear from you!