• Gabbai

Tazria / Metzora – Gift and Responsibility of Speech

The creation of the human is described in Genesis. “And the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the earth, and He blew into his nostril a soul of life, and man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7)

As a result of God’s input of a soul of life man became ‘alive.’ This is the literal translation and the most obvious interpretation of the verse. Onkelos, however, in his Aramaic translation which appears in almost every modern edition of the chumash, translates the final phrase differently. “And man became a speaking spirit.” According to Onkelos’s interpretation the breath and soul that God put into man turned him into… a being that can speak. In other words, what sets man apart from other creations of God, what is unique and human-like about mankind, is the ability to speak.

Almost all creatures communicate in some fashion, and many creatures communicate through sound. No other being, however, has the capacity to develop and speak a language with many tens of thousands of words, expressing through these words deep thoughts, emotional feelings and intellectual reasoning. In this ability the human stands apart, far apart, from other beings created by God.

As with every gift, the gift of speech comes with a charge to use it responsibly. And as with every other power, the power of speech has uses for good, uses for evil and many uses that are seen as neutral. Numerous Mitzvot require the use of speech. Blessings and prayers are most often recited verbally. On Yom Ha’atzmaut, coming up this week, those who view the modern state of Israel as