Parashat Devarim: Words like bees

Parashat Devarim, Deuteronomy Chapter 1:1-3:22 (Plaut p.1161; Hertz p.736)

Haftarah Isaiah 1:1-27 (Plaut p.1180; Hertz p.750)

Rabbi SchellWords have always had a central place in Judaism. As Jews, we have understood that words have real power: words create – words destroy – words are holy. The Torah begins with words being the tools of creation – paired with the imaginary power of God we witness the beautiful results of these words.  And later on, we see, how words, combined with fear, egoism, and/or anger nearly destroyed the world. We learn how mighty words can be. That’s why the Torah never stops to educate us, again and again, about this power. I think it doesn’t come as a surprise that also the last book of the Torah, Devarim – Words, continues to teach us to choose our words wisely.

In the fifth book of the Torah we can listen one more time to Moses, sharing God’s values with the Israelites and recounting to them their journey of the last forty years. Moses reminds those assembled that it was words that stung so deeply and painfully that they ultimately led to the destruction of that entire generation. The spies who had gone to scout the Promised Land came back and gave a report that explicitly documents the destructive action of words, reporting that the Israelites are weak and powerless, and ignoring the protective shield of the Eternal. The destructive impact of words is highlighted by Moses when he recounts this moment: “Our kinsmen have taken the heart out of us…” (Dtn 1.28).

The Hebrew for “words”, devarim, is written in the Torah scroll with no vowels, and it can be read and vocalised more than one way. It can also be read as devorim, “bees”. Words can be sweet and sustain like the honey of a bee, but can also hurt and even lead to death, like the sting of a bee. Words create environments that are holy or unholy. It is on us to choose our words in a ways that we create holy environments wherever we go, following God’s footsteps in creating an awesome world.

– Rabbi Adrian M Schell (Source: Rabbi S. Roberts – Words like bees)

Podcast of Rabbi Schell’s Radio Sermons on Radio Today, follow

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