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Words and Stones

Words and Stones

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In Mezhibuzh, the hometown of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (founder of Chassidism, 1698–1760), two local residents were involved in a bitter dispute. One day, they were angrily shouting at each other in the local synagogue, when one of them cried out: “I’ll rip you to pieces with my bare hands!”

The Baal Shem Tov, who was in the synagogue at the time, told his disciples to form a circle, each taking the hand of his neighbor, and to close their eyes. Rabbi Israel himself closed the circle by placing his hands upon the shoulders of the two disciples who stood to his right and his left. Suddenly, the disciples cried out in fright: behind their closed eyelids they saw the angry man actually tearing his fellow apart, just as he had threatened!


Words are like arrows, says the Psalmist, and like smoldering coals. Like arrows, explains the Midrash, for a man stands in one place and his words wreak havoc on another’s life many miles away. And like a coal whose outer surface has been extinguished but whose interior remains aflame, so too do malevolent words continue to work their damage long after their external effect has evaporated.

Words kill in many ways. Sometimes they set in motion a chain of events that turn them into a self-fulfilling prophecy; sometimes they are deflected off the object of their venom, to strike some innocent bystander; and sometimes they return like a boomerang to pursue their originator. By whatever route they travel, hateful words inevitably lead to hateful actions, possibly years or even generations after they are uttered. Human nature is such that thoughts strive to find expression in spoken words, and spoken words seek realization in deeds—often by circuitous paths that the original utterer of those words neither desired nor anticipated.

But the power of the word runs deeper than its potential to translate into action. Even if this potential is never realized, even if the spoken words never materialize in the “world of action,” they still exist in the higher, more spiritual “world of speech.” For man is not only a body, but also a soul; he is not only a physical being, but also a spiritual creature. On the physical plane, spoken words may be significant only as potential actions; in the soul’s reality, they are actual.

This is what the Baal Shem Tov wished to show his disciples by granting them a glimpse into the world of words inhabited by the souls of the two verbal combatants. He wanted them to understand that every word we utter is real, whether or not it comes to fruition in the “world of action” in which our physical self resides. On a higher, more spiritual plane of reality—a reality as real to our soul as the physical reality is to our physical self—our every word is as good (and as bad) as done.

The same is true, of course, in the positive sense: a word of praise, a word of encouragement is as good (and as good) as done in the spiritual reality of the soul. Even before a good word has yielded a good deed, it has already had a profound and lasting effect upon the inner state of ourselves and our world.

By Yanki Tauber; based on the teachings of the Rebbe.
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batya Dallas September 27, 2016

the tongue Blessings & Cursing
hearing words that can build up or pull down both parties and leaves one with a scar that is hard to erase,todah.

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Jonathan Davis Glasgow, Scotland December 26, 2013

Speaking ill of those passed on.. As Miriam suffered from leprosy because she spoke ill of Moses, would I be correct in thinking that Lashon Hara applies to us also if we should speak ill of those who have passed on, or, does it only apply to the living? Reply

Anonymous March 21, 2013

Life and death are in the power of the tongue. Reply

Lamont Myers hallandale, Fl. April 25, 2012

Words and stones Like building a structure with poor materials,building lines of thought with harsh tones and hostile intent only lends to invoke fear and anger, which in turn creates a poor relationship.A break down will occur. It is better to have dignity and respect than force and fear, because if we force some one into fear it leaves them no choice but to fight. With dignity and respect a person is open to ideas. When spoken in Truth. Reply

Jeffrey Calligan Malvern, VIC, Australia June 4, 2010

The power of words Words to others and how we speak to ourselves carry power - blessing or curse. Rational Emotive Psychology teaches the importance of self conversation and its impact on our psychological well being. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is built on this idea. The revelation that we constantly grow and re-grow our brain with its neural paths by how we choose to think in again pointing to the finger of the Creator in all we are and think and do. Reply

shirah Zeller New York, NY June 4, 2010

comment by Keles Istvan Amen Reply

carol ehrenkranz st petersburg, USA via chabadsp.com June 7, 2008

Strength or Weakness of Silence Need more information on the strength or weakness of the power of the strength or weakness of our silent thoughts. I understand the power of the spoken word, but am still confused of the power of the thoughts within. Reply

Keles István Totkomlos, Hungary September 17, 2006

Deu. 26,15: Look down from thy holy habitation, from heaven, and bless thy people Israel, and the land which thou hast given us, as thou swarest unto our fathers, a land that floweth with milk and honey. Reply

Michelle Berman Warwick, UK June 18, 2006

How very true. The damage of harsh words can harm you for all of your life Reply

Anonymous August 10, 2004

Silence & stones What you wrote can also apply to silence. Silence too can damage and / or kill. And, just as words exist on a higher, more spiritual plane of reality, so does silence. Reply

Alan Rosen Johannesburg, South Africa April 21, 2004

Thanks for the wonderful insight Reply

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