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The Power to Create or Destroy

We have now entered the Hebrew month of Cheshvan, which comes from the Hebrew root “chash” meaning “silent.” The month of Cheshvan feels empty – or “silent” – because it’s the only month that has no holidays and no special mitzvos.1

We don’t normally think of silence as a middah, but it is, in fact, a very important one! Chazal teach us that there is nothing better for the body than silence2; someone who stays silent is considered Hashem’s partner3; and someone who stays silent has the power to uphold the entire world.4

Why is silence so powerful?

Why is silence so powerful?

And how can we maximize this power of silence in our own lives?

Before learning about silence, though, we must first consider the power of speech. What can we accomplish with our words? What effects do they have?

Speech: The Power to Create

On a basic level, speech is our way of communicating with the people around us. If I want someone to pass me the salt, I open my mouth and say, “Please pass the salt.”

But if the purpose of speech is simply to communicate my needs, then my speech is not much better than animal communication. Animals communicate with each other, too. Yes, they might bark, chirp, or buzz, but they get their point across to each other just fine.

So why do Chazal say5 that the power of speech is unique to human beings, if animals can communicate with each other also?

The Sifsei Chaim6 explains that human speech is unique in that our words can create spiritual realities. When an animal makes noise, it’s just using sound as a tool to get what it needs in the short-term. But when a human speaks, he or she can create new spiritual realities.

Human speech is unique in that our words can create spiritual realities.

For example, if a person makes a Neder (promise) to avoid specific activities (such as, “I’ll never eat gefilte fish again”) then the Torah takes his words very seriously and he is not allowed to violate his promise.7 His words create a new spiritual reality where eating gefilte fish is halachically prohibited for him. Similarly, if a person declares a certain item to be Hekdesh (reserved for use only in the Beis HaMikdash) then that object takes on a new spiritual reality, and he cannot use it any more for non-holy purposes. 

We can also see the power of our words at the end of every Shabbos, when a person can start doing weekday activities just by saying “Baruch HaMavdil bein Kodesh Lechol.” His words create a new spiritual reality: a separation between Shabbos and the weekdays.

Where does this power of speech come from?

Our power of speech actually comes from Hashem Himself.8 Chazal9 teach us that Hashem created the world with 10 Ma’amaros (Sayings). Hashem could have created light, fish, trees, and animals by silently willing them into existence, but instead, Hashem chose to use words to create everything in this world, such as when Hashem said, “Let there be light!'”10

Our power of speech actually comes from Hashem Himself.

We see from here that Hashem doesn’t speak just in order to share the news – Hashem uses His speech to create entire worlds and spiritual realities. This entire world and everything contained within it were created only through Hashem’s words, from “Let there be light” to “May the earth sprout grass”11 and “Let us make man!”12

Finally, on Day 6 of Creation, Hashem shared His power of speech with Adam, the first man: “Vayeepach B’Apav Nishmas Chayim – Hashem blew a living soul into man.” Chazal teach that this “living soul” contained the power of speech, which Hashem wanted to share with mankind. Just as Hashem created this entire world with His speech, we, too, can create and transform reality with our words.

Just as Hashem created this entire world with His speech, we, too, can create and transform reality with our words.

By sharing our thoughts and feelings with another person, we can create close relationships. By speaking divrei Torah at our Shabbos tables, we can transform our tables into being as holy as the Mizbeiach (Altar) in the Beis HaMikdash13. By offering an enthusiastic “Good morning!” we can totally transform someone’s mood. By offering a well-deserved compliment or words of encouragement, we can create confidence in someone who would otherwise be less self-assured.

Just as words have the power to create, words also have the power to destroy. Words of gossip can destroy relationships, families, or even entire communities. (Or – on the positive side – answering “Amen Yehei Shmeih Rabbah” out loud has the power to destroy evil decrees.14)

Indeed, Rav Chaim Volozhin writes15 that at the end of each person’s life, Hashem will reveal to him everything that was created as a result of his words. We will then understand the far-reaching consequences of everything we said during our lifetimes.

This week, let’s practice using our power of speech for positive, constructive things. Let’s use our words to build people, create positive relationships, and transform the mundane elements of our lives into something holy.

Sources: [1] Rav Hirsch: Maagalei Shanah, Vol. I. pg. 172; [2] Pirkei Avos 1:17; [3] Midrash Shochar Tov 86; [4] Chullin 89a; [5] Rashi on Bereishis 2:7; [6] Vayikra-Bamidbar pg. 505; [7] Bamidbar 30:3; [8] Vayikra-Bamidbar pg. 509; [9] Pirkei Avos 5:1; [10] Bereishis 1:3; [11] Bereishis 1:11; [12] Bereishis 1:26; [13] Pirkei Avos 3:3; [14] Shabbos 119b; [15] Nefesh HaChaim 1:13

Your Challenge

Once a day, use your power of speech for a positive purpose.


  • Give someone a compliment.
  • Give someone advice or a suggestion.
  • Say “thank you” (or better yet, try to express more-detailed appreciation)
  • Say a tefillah in your own words
  • Thank Hashem out loud
  • Answer “Amen” to someone’s bracha
  • Answer “Amen Yehei Shmeih Rabbah” out loud
  • Say a brachah out loud so others can answer Amen

(Optional: Before you speak, think to yourself: “I am about to use my G-d-given power of speech, which can be used to create or destroy.”)

Torah Questions

  1. When did Lot (Avraham’s nephew) stay silent? (See Rashi on Bereishis 19:29)
  2. How was Lot rewarded for his silence?
  3. When did Mordechai tell Esther that she must stay silent? What information was she not supposed to reveal? (See Esther 2:10)
  4. When did Mordechai tell Esther that she must speak up, and NOT remain silent? (Esther 4:14)
  5. According to Mishlei 18:21, which two things does our speech have the power to impact?
  6. According to Rabbi Akiva in Pirkei Avos 3:13, what does silence protect?

Questions to Ponder

  1. In which types of situations is it important to be silent?
  2. In which types of situations is it important to speak up and not keep quiet?
  3. Can you think of a time in your life when you should have stayed quiet, but you spoke up instead, and then regretted it later?
  4. Can you think of a time in your life when you should have spoken up, but you didn’t say anything, and then you later regretted your silence?
  5. The Gemara (Brachos 63b) says that if a Rebbe becomes angry with his student once, and the student remains silent, then the student is rewarded with the ability to distinguish between pure blood and impure blood. But if a Rebbe becomes angry twice and the student stays silent twice, then the student is rewarded with the ability to understand laws related to monetary and capital punishment. Why is the student’s silence considered praiseworthy in these cases? And why do you think these specific rewards are given to students who are able to stay silent?

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