The power of words
Words are the place where my identity as a storyteller converges with my Jewish soul. I’m not a Judaic scholar but I know that there is intrinsic logic between all Jewish ideas and that is what I look for*.
Words form ideas and ideas shape reality. The misuse of words, particularly deliberate perversion of meaning in order to promote political agendas is a pet peeve of mine (Palestine, feminism and hero are just a few examples).
In the creation story, God uses words in order to form the world. This tells us that there is a special power to words. Interestingly, humans, created in God’s image, also have some modicum of the power of words which we see in the story when man is given the responsibility of naming the animals. God gave the animals life but they became real to man after they were given names.
In the Harry Potter stories the characters are so afraid of the evil one that they call him “he who must not be named,” only those who consciously choose to face the danger name Voldemort – and in doing so minimize the power the fear holds over them. We can often see similar behavior in people who refuse to say the word “cancer,” instead saying alternatives like “the sickness,” as if this avoidance will minimize the danger in the disease.
Words matter. In the Jewish texts the choice of words is very deliberate and everything about them – their placement within the text, if they repeat in the same or other places etc. – provide us maps, guiding us on how to handle our lives.
The concept of not speaking “lashon hara”, literally “tongue that is bad”
Many Jewish ideas have been integrated into Christian ideas, enabling the Western world to be founded on Judeo-Christian ideas about how the world works and what are the correct ways to behave in the world. It seems to me that in the places where there are gaps, where ideas where not transferred over or incorrectly transferred, there are problems.
Lashon hara is a profound Jewish concept that has no comparative translation in English. I have seen this idea translated as an instruction to not speak evil, not lie or avoid gossip. None of these encapsulate the concept or explain why lashon hara is such a serious transgression that it can even be considered a form of atheism, of going against God – worse than idolatry, adultery, and murder (all of which are things we are commanded not to do in the 10 Commandments).
In the 10 Commandments we are commanded not to bear false witness. From this we learn that lying is wrong, particularly lying with the purpose of subverting justice. If lashon hara only referred to lying, we really wouldn’t need another term to explain the idea. Likewise, if the concept referred to evil speech it would include the word “evil” which it does not. In Hebrew “ra” means bad, not evil.
The concept also does not imply that we must not say harsh or negative things. Sometimes the truth is unpleasant. Sometimes it is necessary to say negative things in order to teach or even to prevent disaster.
So, what does “lashon hara” mean?
I understand “lashon hara” to be the opposite end of the spectrum of the creation story. God used words to create and saw that “it was good.” We are warned that, with words intended for bad (negativity with no positive purpose or simple untruths), we are speaking into reality a creation that is bad, perhaps literally undoing God’s creation that is good.
Words shape reality. Using our tongue for bad can create a nightmare.
The idea of not speaking lashon hara is much bigger than being “nice,” not gossiping or even not lying. It is more profound than understanding the negative effects of problematic language that is prevalent in social media or politics. It’s certainly not a call to police the language of others.
The seriousness of lashon hara as a transgression against creation itself is a lesson of personal responsibility. It is a reminder that the spark of the Divine in every individual and that every word we choose holds the power of creation. This is an awesome responsibility. Think about it and you may never want to speak again.
Each word is a tool of magic that can create or destroy. It is up to us to use our power wisely, to create a positive reality rather than one that is disastrous, chaotic and negative.
*Places where there doesn’t seem to be logic in Jewish teachings are places that we either don’t know enough to understand or have been corrupted by other people’s ideas and, once you go back to the origin, the logic suddenly becomes clear.
6 thoughts on “What world are you creating with your words?”
I really enjoyed this post and got me thinking more about how I use my words in my writings and every day communications and how I could do better.
I’m a Christian by the way who loves the Harry Potter books! 😉
I am glad you found this thought provoking! And of course loads of Christians loved the books 😊
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“I understand “lashon hara” to be the opposite end of the spectrum of the creation story.”
The above line from your post struck me and caught my attention. It paints a vivid image in my mind as to how I can be more mindful of the words I utter. Thank you for the stories and thoughts that you share.
Thank you for reading and taking the time to write this nice comment. I’m glad I could use my words to paint a helpful picture
Good day to you,
I am really wondering how on earth you can be so irratated about the God TV opening a Hebrew channel , that is not compulsary to watch, let alone that it is neccesary to convert if you do not want, and at the same time in this e-mail you quote Harry Potter, a book with lots of occult items anD connecting to the spirit world which is strictly forbidden by the G-d of the Torah! The book of leviticus and Deutoronomy is full with it! Books that I do not want my childrens to read because of the dark items!
Can you explain?
Shalom from the Netherlands , a friend of Israel ,
Op 14-5-2020 om 15:17 schreef Inspiration from Zion: This is a Love Story: > WordPress.com > Forest Rain posted: “The power of words Words are the place where my > identity as a storyteller converges with my Jewish soul. I’m not a > Judaic scholar but I know that there is intrinsic logic between all > Jewish ideas and that is what I look for*. Words form ideas and ideas ” >
I will try to explain. I am not sure you will be able to understand because there is a gap in the way Christians and Jews see the world. I will however try because I believe you are looking for an honest dialogue.
Re GodTV –
On one hand freedom of speech is important because it is the foundation for the other freedoms.
On the other hand, Israel is the home, the safe haven of the Jewish People. Like you protect your children, we protect our people because ALL of our people are our family.
While a Christian person would probably be happy if a Jew converted (although I am not sure you should be because, like I wrote in the letter, who are you to say that Jews have finished the task God gave us and can stop being Jews?) Jews see conversion as a devastating loss of a soul that belongs in our tribe. Like terrorists rip away lives, taking a soul away from us is a kind of death, perhaps worse than death.
Yes, the person who converted did so out of their own free will but those who are attempting to convert our people are preying on those who are weak in their identity. We believe in strengthening the identity of those who do not know their true selves and find it devastating to have a soul lost to us. We are all too few as is…
I tried to explain in my letter why trying to convert Jews can only be interpreted as a curse on Israel. I hope the letter and this additional explanation makes sense. I don’t expect you to necessarily agree with me but friends try to understand each other and not do something the other person finds abominable.
Re Harry Potter –
I have heard a number of Christians express strong feelings of being disturbed by the story so you are not the first. I do wonder how many of those upset by the popularity of the books actually read them and understand that their popularity has nothing to do with occult content and everything to do with them being about the battle between good and evil, triumph of spirit, friendship and love.
You might feel better with the understanding that the series was not a call or a lesson for children to commit evil, the opposite is true – it is a call to recognize the divine spark within each individual and to be brave enough to struggle for the ultimate good. The books resonated with so many people because it is a call for good, not because all those people were enticed by evil.
Many Christians seem afraid of the ideas in the book. Jews are not afraid. We are not just the People of THE BOOK, we are also the people of many books and have no problem connecting religion, science and fantasy stories – none of these go against God, all provide different perspective and portals to understanding the Divine. We see this often in very advanced scientists and mathematicians who get to a point where there are no longer concrete explanations and they suddenly see divinity in the subjects they are studying.
Harry Potter is not evil, it’s an allegory that helped millions around the world connect to the ultimate story. Not everyone can connect through study of the Bible and religion. Many people need other paths. They don’t negate each other; they actually make each other richer.
Not that I expect you to agree or do as I do but perhaps you can understand a different perspective