Blog

318http://www.beth-israel.org/blog/2017/07/RabbiLyonsBlog-07_28_2017
Rabbi Lyon's Blog - 07_28_2017
07/28/2017 12:00 PM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
July 28, 2017


"Devarim: Words and Things”

Some years ago, a Temple friend gave me a copy of the book, "Simple Words: Thinking about What Really Matters in Life” by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, an internationally known scholar of Talmud. In his book, Steinsaltz focuses on the inherent meaning of a list of simple words. In the first chapter, he writes about "Words”.

                Steinsaltz begins with a reference to Genesis Rabbah, a commentary on Genesis from the fourth century. In it, the rabbis describe how God consulted with the angels about the creation of man, and the angels didn’t like the idea at all. They rejected the idea of connecting a Divine soul with an earthly body, and concluded that it was bound to fail. After the world and man were created, God again asked the angels to look at what God had done and to give names to all of God’s creations. Again, the angels said that they could not. Then God showed off Man, and asked Adam to name all the creations that passed before him. Adam gave names to all the creatures, to himself, his wife, and to God (Genesis 2:19, 2:23). Steinsaltz teaches that the marvel of Adam, who stood over animals and even angels, wasn’t just that he could talk, but that he created words, simply. Steinsaltz’s point is that Adam didn’t begin with a lexicon of vocabulary and phrases. He chose his words simply and used his words mindfully.

                This week’s Torah portion is called Devarim. It means "words” but it also means "things.” It’s a perfect opening for the responsibility we have to choose our words simply and to use our words mindfully, too. When we choose our words well, then our words have the potential to deliver messages that build and connect. With simple words, relationships can begin and grow to convey values we share with family and friends, but also with new acquaintances. When we don’t choose our words well, then they’re just things; they become utilitarian choices that enable us to accomplish a transaction with others, but without regards for anything more than that.

                Used mindfully, words convey mutual respect even when they convey difficult messages. That's why we make a fuss about politically correct or "PC” words. It has nothing to do with sanitizing our language as if one's mother was washing out her child's mouth with soap. It has nothing to do with avoiding the truth, as if anyone isn't completely aware of the meaning of a carefully crafted message. Rather, words that once suited us in the past conveyed messages and made inferences about people and issues that we've long ago learned more about and grew to respect. Today, those words are nothing but things. So-called "PC" words match our contemporary sensibilities about race, sexuality, equality, and much more. It's in the power of these words that we express our willingness to grow our vocabulary and discover the power to be more fully human; that is, above the creatures Adam named and even the angels.

                Steinsaltz closes his chapter on words by reflecting on Adam and Eve’s speaking relationship. He cites the Midrash, which explains that Man and Woman were first created as one body; later God cut that being in half, thereby making a separate Man and a separate Woman (Steinsaltz, p. 25). It marked the first time they could hold a conversation between them. Steinsaltz writes, "When I speak with another being who is similar to me, yet different, I begin not only to understand the other, but also to understand what I myself am speaking about” (Steinsaltz, p. 25).  The rabbi admits that he doesn’t know what language Adam spoke with Eve, with the animals or the angels; but, he concludes, "I am sure it was simple words.”

                Steinsaltz helps us know that so much can be revealed about us in simple words. How will you choose your "devarim” as you speak to those whom you know and others who are new to you? And what will your words help you learn about yourself as others learn about you, too? God’s trust in humankind began with words, simply chosen, that reveal all that we can be, together.


You may reach Rabbi David Lyon here.
Blog Search

Categories

Archives

201712December2
December 2017 (2)
201711November2
November 2017 (2)
201710October2
October 2017 (2)
201708August3
August 2017 (3)
201707July4
July 2017 (4)
201706June4
June 2017 (4)
201705May2
May 2017 (2)
201704April3
April 2017 (3)
201703March4
March 2017 (4)
201702February3
February 2017 (3)
201701January3
January 2017 (3)
201612December4
December 2016 (4)
201611November3
November 2016 (3)
201610October3
October 2016 (3)
201609September4
September 2016 (4)
201608August2
August 2016 (2)
201607July5
July 2016 (5)
201606June2
June 2016 (2)
201605May3
May 2016 (3)
201604April4
April 2016 (4)
201603March3
March 2016 (3)
201602February2
February 2016 (2)
201601January4
January 2016 (4)
201512December4
December 2015 (4)
201511November3
November 2015 (3)
201510October2
October 2015 (2)
201509September2
September 2015 (2)
201508August4
August 2015 (4)
201507July5
July 2015 (5)
201506June4
June 2015 (4)
201505May2
May 2015 (2)
201504April5
April 2015 (5)
201503March3
March 2015 (3)
201502February4
February 2015 (4)
201501January4
January 2015 (4)
201412December3
December 2014 (3)
201411November3
November 2014 (3)
201410October4
October 2014 (4)
201409September2
September 2014 (2)
201408August3
August 2014 (3)
201407July3
July 2014 (3)
201406June3
June 2014 (3)
201405May3
May 2014 (3)
201404April4
April 2014 (4)
201403March3
March 2014 (3)
201402February4
February 2014 (4)
201401January5
January 2014 (5)
201312December3
December 2013 (3)
201311November3
November 2013 (3)
201310October4
October 2013 (4)
201309September2
September 2013 (2)
201308August5
August 2013 (5)
201307July4
July 2013 (4)
201306June4
June 2013 (4)
201305May5
May 2013 (5)
201304April4
April 2013 (4)
201303March4
March 2013 (4)
201302February4
February 2013 (4)
201301January5
January 2013 (5)
201212December4
December 2012 (4)
201211November5
November 2012 (5)
201210October4
October 2012 (4)
201209September2
September 2012 (2)
201208August5
August 2012 (5)
201207July4
July 2012 (4)
201206June3
June 2012 (3)
201205May5
May 2012 (5)
201204April4
April 2012 (4)
201203March5
March 2012 (5)
201202February4
February 2012 (4)
201201January4
January 2012 (4)
201112December5
December 2011 (5)
201111November3
November 2011 (3)
201110October3
October 2011 (3)
201109September4
September 2011 (4)
201108August4
August 2011 (4)
201107July3
July 2011 (3)
201106June4
June 2011 (4)
201105May4
May 2011 (4)
201104April4
April 2011 (4)
201103March5
March 2011 (5)
201102February4
February 2011 (4)
201101January4
January 2011 (4)
201012December5
December 2010 (5)
201011November4
November 2010 (4)
201010October5
October 2010 (5)
201009September2
September 2010 (2)
201008August2
August 2010 (2)
201006June3
June 2010 (3)
201005May5
May 2010 (5)
201004April3
April 2010 (3)
Captavi QixSuite™ - Hosted Marketing Automation Software ©