by Tovah Horwitz
For Jews around the world this past month has been spent preparing for, celebrating and recuperating from all the holidays. Together with the many holidays came many occasions for Jews around the world to linger at festive meals; eating, drinking and especially talking with family and friends. For many, these extended meals occurred after spending hours in the synagogue talking to God via individual and collective prayer.
With all this talking going on, it is interesting to note that speech and language are both inherent and essential to this time of year from a Jewish perspective. Bereshit, “Genesis,” is the first Torah portion and is also read immediately after the conclusion of Simchat Torah, the final holiday in the month of Tishrei. Bereshit tells the account of how once there was nothing, and then with ten divine utterances God brought the world into being. וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יְהִי אוֹר וַיְהִי אוֹר God said, “Let there be light” and there was light.
The Hebrew words were God’s chosen tool for creation. According to the mystical teachings of the Kabalah, God’s utterances are eternal; the long ago uttered words and their energies remain active in the heavens, constantly and continuously fueling the world’s state of creation. In other words, if God chose to extinguish the creative energy of those utterances at any moment then the world would cease to exist.
Humans, and specifically the Jewish people, were assigned by God the weighty task of partnering with God to perfect and recreate our intentionally “flawed” world. As the only beings created both in the image of God and gifted with the faculty of speech, it follows that a principal way for us to do this is through our own speech.
The power of speech takes on a whole new meaning when you consider that each word we say contains sparks of creative energy that shape the continual recreation of the world. Thanks to our God given free will, it is our choice if the energy we send out to the universe is positive or negative, kind or demeaning, gentle or harsh, productive or excessive.
This concept certainly provides some food for thought, especially at this time of year when many of us are searching for new ways to recreate ourselves and deepen our impact on the world. While some embark on a journey, learn a new skill, tackle a project, or chase after a dream, it seems that one area in which we have a meaningful duty to pursue is the sacred realm of Hebrew.
As the language God used to create the world, Hebrew, fittingly, is “imbued with layer upon fascinating layer of complexities making it an ideal study topic for both beginners and experienced Hebrew speakers,” explains Yuval of Ulpan-Or, the Hebrew learning destination popular amongst Israel’s tourist and new immigrant communities. “Beginners can delve into learning basic comprehension, reading, writing and speaking skills while more experienced and native speakers can explore the mystical facets of the language,” says Yuval.
After a holiday-packed month spent talking to each other, Bereshit pointedly reminds us that each time we speak we have an opportunity, even an obligation, to carry on the 5777 year tradition of creating and recreating the world through speech. Next time when you want to share a thought, use the language of the creation of the world.