Rabbi Ilan Goldman
Former Rav Shaliach of Bnei Akiva UK
Incoming Educational Director of Torah MiTzion

Click Here for the PDF version
The Ramban in his famous letter to his son guides his son to think about what he is about to say before he says it. This is solid advice: often we may say something and regret it later, or realise it was better not said or perhaps at least phrased differently. The Midrash[1] on the Parasha invites us to delve into a deeper understanding on the importance of the speech.
The Midrash picks up on an interesting contrast. When Hashem appoints Moshe at the burning bush, Moshe claims that he is not אִישׁ דְּבָרִים, ‘a man of words’[2]. Yet, towards the end of his life, his farewell speech is introduced with the phrase אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים, ‘These are the words’[3]. This speech is in fact the vast majority of Chumash Devarim, i.e. around a fifth of the Torah. How did Moshe emerge from being a man who was not ‘of words’ to becoming a man of so many words? The Midrash proves from here that the tongue (language) of the Torah heals the tongue (speech). Since Moshe was given the Torah, his speech was healed.
The Shem MiShmuel asks[4]: the Torah heals everything, not just the tongue, so why then does the Midrash emphasise the tongue? Of all our organs and of all our physical abilities the tongue, speech, is what makes humans unique and superior to all other living creatures. Speech is defined as an intermediary between the spiritual world and the physical one. Another Midrash[5] teaches that it is really the heart which is talking, i.e. the tongue is merely an expression of man’s inner self. We are accustomed to thinking of speech as a form of communication. Yet, that is not unique to the human race and other species also communicate. Hence, we should not consider the ability to speak as merely a form of communication, but rather as a form of connecting to and revealing one’s inner self.
Moshe, according to the Maharal[6], was so lofty before receiving the Torah that he could not express himself properly in this world. However, once he received the Torah, his physical self was also elevated and his spiritual side and physical side no longer contradicted, enabling him to express himself verbally. The Midrash is therefore teaching us, that the Torah can elevate us and so too can the language of the Torah. When speaking a language a person is connecting to the essence of that language. For example, if a person were to learn Chinese and yet never go to China and never meet a Chinese person, they would nevertheless be connecting to the essence of the culture of the Chinese. Therefore when people speak Hebrew, they are connecting to the highest form of speech. As Hebrew is the language in which the world was created, Hebrew is the language of prophecy.
Occasionally, I hear people referring to an email I sent to them in Hebrew, as written in the “wrong language”. We should recognise the importance of the Hebrew language and try to accustom ourselves to learn it and speak it more often. As religious Jews, and some will claim that merely as Jews, we are familiar with Hebrew and need not learn a new language but rather refresh our memory. In addition, speaking Hebrew will connect us further to the Torah and to the modern State of Israel, allowing us to be more at home with both.


[1] Midrash Devarim Rabba 1:1
[2] Shemot 4:10
[3] Devarim 1:1
[4] Shem MiShmuel, Parashat Devarim, 5676
[5] Midrash Kohelet Rabba 1:36
[6] Gevurot Hashem, Chapter 28

comments: ilanrgoldman@gmail.com