I received a phone call the other day from the mother of one of my children’s friends. I could tell she was a bit hesitant to broach the subject, but felt she had no choice. She told me that her son had come home from school crying that my child had called him a terrible name. She wanted to let me know.

Needless to say, I was shocked and embarrassed. I honestly didn’t know my son even knew this particular term that was so offensive. And even if this child had heard it, it was very unlike him to repeat it. But I didn’t think her child had made the story up, and I knew this was something we would have to deal with. While it could not have been easy for her to have called me, I was so glad she did. Had she not told me, I never would have known, and it would have ended a close friendship, which would have only caused both children pain.

My child had called him a terrible nameSome of our worst memories do not involve what someone has done to us, but rather what has been said. There are just certain words, certain phrases, that are almost impossible to take back. You can say “I love you” thousands of times. But it only takes one “I hate you” to make us question if the love was ever there.

I find it amazing that the defining characteristic of a human being is our ability to speak. Not the fact that we can think, but that we can speak. We are called a medaber, a speaker; and we are taught in the story of Creation that the phrase nefesh chayah, which means “a living soul”—used in describing when the first human, Adam, was given life—is synonymous, according to the commentators, with “a speaking spirit.”

But we don’t have to look too deeply to see the message right there in the description. The word chayah, referring to the level of the soul, is the same word in Hebrew as “animal.” Basically, if we use our ability to speak in the proper way, we merit the status of human beings. If we misuse or abuse it, we revert back to the base level of an animal. Every time we open our mouths, we choose.

We are now celebrating the holiday of Passover. The holiday of speaking. In the name of the holiday itself, Pesach, we have the explanation that it is peh, “mouth,” and sach, “speaking.” Furthermore, we spent the Passover seder reading the Haggadah aloud. The word haggadah comes from lehagid, which means “to tell.” So, clearly, this holiday is strongly related to our ability to speak out loud and connect to others through that speech.

Only once we are free can we speakAnd what do we speak about? Our slavery, our challenges and our redemption. Only once we are free can we speak. Slaves do not speak; they don’t have a voice. And even if they do, they will not be heard. Free people can speak, and must speak. Yet sometimes, it is that speech that causes all the problems.

We have all said things we wish we could take back. Things we regret and that caused pain, sometimes tremendous pain. And when we are hurt, we want to retreat. We don’t want to talk. We don’t want to have to share our feelings. But it is often only through speaking about the problem that we give it an opportunity to be solved.

Passover teaches us that part of healing and celebrating our freedom and miracles is by first recounting and discussing the negative, as that was part of the process. You cannot just make up with someone who was hurt unless you are willing to go back to what was said or done and talk through it. Pretending as if it never happened ensures that the relationship will not be able to heal. So, the same way that our words can create pain, it is often only through our words that we can heal that very pain.

And, you might wonder, what happened when I spoke to my child? Well, I asked if he knew the meaning of the word that was used. He has no idea what I was talking about. I reminded him that he had said it in school and called another boy by that name. He looked so confused.

The same way that our words can create pain, it is often only through our words that we can heal that very painIt was then explained that they had a writing assignment, and the word came up in something they were reading. Sure enough, this word did have a perfectly innocent and innocuous meaning as well, when not misused. And it turns out that my child did not have a clue there was any other meaning (until, of course, I said there was—whoops!), and was in no way trying to insult his friend. He thought he was being cute and silly, and simply was not aware that there was any other way of understanding the word.

So, needless to say (no pun intended) that through the fact that this boy’s mother was willing to speak to me and retell something negative, it was able to be resolved through speaking about it once again, and the air was cleared. When I called back the mother to report my findings, we were both so relieved, and shared quite the laugh. My son then got on the phone to his friend and apologized for unintentionally hurting him. In the process, he most definitely learned about the power of his words.