Counting the Omer with Rhonda Kiff
Day 14 — Purity
Tahara • טהרה
By Cyndee Levy, St. Louis, Missouri
Who is the person who is eager for life, who desires years of good fortune? Guard your tongue from evil and your lips from deceitful speech. Turn from bad, and do good; seek peace and pursue it. (Tehillim/Psalms 34:13-15)
In the Path of the Just we learn that the middah of Purity entails corrective measures aimed at the refinement of one’s heart and thoughts. The purpose of this middah is that a person should prevent the evil inclination from influencing one’s actions. This concept can also be extended to the careful consideration and use of ones words.
This year as I was learning about Pesach in preparation for the holiday, I came across an interesting teaching. The Kabbalists explain that the Hebrew word for Pesach is a combination of the words “peh sach” — “the mouth speaks.” The redemption from Egypt, which paved the way for the Torah’s revelation at Sinai, also redeemed the faculty of speech; we were given the tools for Holy Speech. For this reason, Pesach is experienced through the mitzvah of speech, the mitzvah to retell the story of Exodus at our Passover seder. In his essay entitled “The Redemption of Speech” Rav Kook offers a profound teaching:
Sometimes we can sense the connection between our speech and the universe. This is the initial step to redeem speech from its exile. As the soul is elevated, we become acutely aware of the tremendous power that lies in our faculty of speech. We recognize clearly the tremendous significance of each utterance; the value of our prayers and blessings, the value of our Torah study and of all our discourse. We learn to recognize the overall impact of speech. We sense the transformation and great stirring of the world that comes about through speech.
I sat with this teaching for days … considering how speech has had an effect on me and how my speech has had an effect on others. I have dwelt for a long time with the idea of the extraordinary nature of Holy Speech. How would our world be transformed if we strove to elevate our speech to that which is rooted in the source of Divine wisdom; that which we are learning together through Torah and mussar? Our traditional morning prayers contain a wonderful kavanah before the Amidah, “I hereby ready my mouth to thank and praise my Creator.” With this simple kavanah we strive to elevate ourselves, use our mouth, our words for a Holy purpose. This Omer I ask you to join me in my effort to focus on my words … as I strive to “guard my tongue from evil and my lips from deceitful speech” and in doing so “turn from bad and do good; as I seek peace and pursue it.” I will carry with me into each day this morning kavanah expanded to fulfill this teaching … I will strive to use my speech as a source of thankfulness and praise to HaShem my Creator.
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