Counting the Omer with Logan Woodward
Day 3 — Orderly Speech
Arichat Sefatayim • עריכת שפתים
By Geoffrey Claussen, North Carolina
The third day of the Omer gives us the opportunity to focus on arichat sefatayim, orderly speech. Ordering our speech is especially important given the ways in which human words are so often aggressive and destructive. Words may be “like the thrusts of a sword,” as the biblical Book of Proverbs (12:18) puts it, and they may be “bruising, penetrating one’s innermost parts” (Proverbs 18:8). For the sake of peace, we are obligated to exercise control over our words so they do not cause such harm. When we properly order our speech, we are attentive to the ways in which even the most innocent and well-intentioned comments can injure others.
Proverbs often describes violent words as the weapons of “the wicked” (see, for example, Proverbs 10:6) or “the faithless” (Proverbs 11:9) and we may be tempted to see ourselves as outside those categories and therefore free from condemnation. But all of us have moments when we engage in speech that bruises others. Our seemingly insignificant, offhand comments may constitute micro-aggressions. Seemingly innocent questions may easily convey our biases and demean others in ways that cause deep wounds.
Ordering our speech so that it causes less aggression, less violence, and less destruction is not easy. It requires sensitivity to verbal habits that we often ignore. It requires study of the many different ways that people of different backgrounds and identities can be hurt by our words. It requires opening ourselves up to the criticisms of others who can help us to see how hurtful our speech may be. It requires engaging in reflection before we speak and ensuring that our priorities are in their proper order. This is important work on the path of mussar.
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