George Orwell demonstrated so vividly that “If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” This is as true today as it was in 1946.

Even though we have been educated about its fallacy, we’re still falling for Newspeak every day.

In 2010, Anand Giridharadas observed that “When a company is ‘levering up,’ it often means, in regular language, that it is spending money it doesn’t have. When it is ‘right-sizing’ or finding ‘synergies,’ it may well be firing people. When it ‘manages stakeholders,’ it could be lobbying or bribing. When you dial into ‘customer care,’ they care very little. But when they call you, even at dinnertime, then it’s a ‘courtesy call.’”1

It’s happening all around you, and the more you pay attention to it, the more you’ll notice it.

The good news?

You can get in on the scheme, too—in a good way, of course.

Good News On the Homefront

Parshat Metzora continues the topic of the last, namely the affliction of tzaraat. While the focus last week was on tzaraat of the skin and clothing, our parshah focuses on tzaraat that appears on the walls of one’s house. Long story short, if the lesion persists and spreads on the wall, the house must be destroyed.

While this may seem like a harsh punishment, Rashi, citing the Midrash, tells us something interesting:

This is [good] news for them that lesions of tzaraat will come upon them, because the Amorites had hidden away treasures of gold inside the walls of their houses during the entire forty years that the Israelites were in the desert, and through the lesion, he will demolish the house and find it.2

The Talmud famously links tzaraat with lashon hara, slander, or, as Maimonides explains,3 with overall negative speech. Accordingly, we must wonder, how does this make sense? The owners of the house are being punished for doing something wrong, so why should they gain from it? Why should one who slandered another or spoke negatively be rewarded with discovering jewels in the walls of their home?

The Magic of Words

But the point of this punishment wasn’t just to give the sinner a slap on the wrist. Rather, it was a teaching moment to guide the sinner to properly appreciate the power of speech and thus use it the right way. Hence the treasure.

To explain:

Words are extremely powerful. Often, when we think about something, the idea is somewhat hazy. When we go ahead and articulate it, however, all of a sudden, the idea sharpens and comes into focus. It’s as if words possess the power to expose things that no amount of thinking can do.

Tyrannical regimes have been upheld with words, and healing has been brought to suffering souls with words. As many wise people throughout history have understood, when ideas are articulated the right way, they can literally topple governments, change minds, and bring tremendous goodness.

Kabbalah4 supports this idea, explaining how words reach into the deepest part of the soul. Thought exposes the workings of the mind, but words burrow straight to the source of all ideas, to the soul’s endless creative capacity, and as such, they expose new depth, clarity, and force.

Expose Jewels, Not Slander

Back to the person with tzaraat on their home. Yes, they sinned. They used words in a negative way. And that’s terrible. But the Torah doesn’t simply stifle negative speech and call it a day. That would only be half the job and a missed opportunity.

The point isn’t to just stymie negative speech but to advocate and harness the tremendous power of words in a positive and constructive way. So, if a person is going to use their words to expose something, to articulate a grand idea, to reach into their soul and bring up something revealing, it should be like the person who tears down the walls of their home and finds ... jewels.

Be Bold and Articulate

Much ink has been spilled over the power of words. Beyond simple tools we use to communicate with one another, great thinkers from the past observed just how much can be accomplished with the right language. Remember Orwell?

What does that tell us?

Choose your words wisely. Don’t just refrain from saying negative things. Tear down the walls of your home and expose those jewels! Be bold and articulate, spreading good ideas and positive energy around you.

Start dispensing compliments. Comment on a friend’s smile, tell a coworker how nice it is to chat during the day, or let your parents know that they did a great job raising you.

Learn something new—a Torah thought—and share it with the people around you. The moment you’re forced to articulate it to the public, it will take on new shape and meaning.

That’s the magic of words, and it’s the magic the Torah wishes to tell us about when it plants jewels inside a slanderer’s house.5