“Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me.”
Most everyone has used this familiar school playground chant at some point during their childhood in the face of hurtful words slung on the blacktop. Many have passed it down to their children as a defense against school yard bullies. But this saying is neither true nor is it Jewish (figuratively or literally as it supposedly first appeared in The Christian Recorder of March1862). In fact, Judaism teaches the opposite message: sticks and stones can only break bones—words, however, have the power to destroy. Equally, words have the power to create as we see demonstrated by God in this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Bereshit (Genesis).
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And a wind from God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light; and there was light. (Genesis 1:1-3)
The most important book in the history of humanity doesn’t begin with a lot of flair. There’s no “big bang.” There’s no thundering Sinai type moment. There’s no sea splitting extravaganza. There’s nothing but good old fashioned speech. The creation story simply begins with words because, from a Jewish perspective, words are the building blocks of creation and cornerstone of every relationship.
This is why the rabbis of the Talmud employ the now famous maxim, “abracadabrah:” avrah – I create, c’dabrah – as I speak. In so many ways speech is magic. The power of words can create: building someone up, erecting self-esteem, fashioning a loving relationship. Equally the power of words, or the withholding of words, can destroy: tearing someone down, ripping a relationship apart or allowing someone to suffer in silence when all that was needed was a soft, simple and loving word.
In an era where divorce is fifty-fifty, families can expect to be divided by geography and long time communities are coming undone; at a time when so many people are suffering from depression, loneliness and feelings of isolation, where bullying is on the rise, school shootings are commonplace and suicide is reaching epidemic proportions, it’s time to reclaim our God given power – the power of speech. Like never before we need to use words to fashion loving relationships, create compassionate communities, and connect all those who are lonely, lost, bullied or suffering on the playground of life.
Abracadabrah. Magic is real. It’s within each and every one of us. We are here to create light, love and life – through the magic of our words, with the power of our speech.
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