“When wine comes in, the secrets come out,” our Sages teach us. This should come as no surprise to us. We all know that alcohol reduces our inhibitions. It allows us to be more free with how we act. To share what we feel. To say what we think. What we really think.

But speech is a funny thing. On the one hand, it allows us to share our innermost essence with another. On the other hand, words can cause more pain and hurt than just about anything else.

A human being is called a medaber, a “speaker”

It is precisely our ability to speak that diffentiates us from an animal and is our crowning characteristic as a human. We are taught in the Book of Genesis that man was created as a “living soul” (2:7). In Hebrew, the term used is a nefesh chayah. The commentator Onkelos translates this concept of “living soul” as synonymous with a “speaking spirit.”

There is something fascinating about this description, both in terms of what a “soul” is of a human, and how that soul is intrinsically related to one’s ability to speak.

The very same phrase--nefesh chayah--which refers to the level of the human soul which is a "speaking spirit" also carries another meaning. Chayah is also an “animal.” The foremost commentator Rashi points out that what is unique about the human that makes this nefesh chayah a human soul and not an animal is the fact that he was given deah “knowledge” and dibur “speech.” And of the two, a human being is called a medaber, a “speaker” for it is speech that allows us to bond and connect with another human being, which is the point of creation.

So if the fact that we speak is what defines us as a human being, than how we speak defines the kind of human being that we are.

There are two kinds of speech: verbal speech and physical speech. Both create realities. In the case of physical speech it is clear, through the ability to reproduce and bring forth children. Likewise, in a spiritual, emotional realm, when we speak, when we say something, we bring a reality into this world that can never be erased.

The world was created through the Ten Utterances that were spoken by G‑d. He spoke and reality came into being. “Let there be light” and there was light. When we speak, we not only create a reality, but we give permanence to that reality. And we all know how true this is, not so much from the times we said something that we should have said, but often from the times we said something that we should not have said.

Ideally, when one speaks, there should be no question as to whether or not the person meant what he or she said. Yet one of the signs of being in exile is that our speech does not always reflect what it is we think and feel. But this is usually the case when someone says something very flattering or kind or positive. “I just love what you are wearing” leaves two possibilities…either she means it or she doesn’t. Usually the statement, “I hate that outfit” does not leave one with the impression that maybe she really does like it and just didn’t say so.

The goal of speech is that what one says should and must reflect what he or she is thinking and feeling. If not, it is antithetical to the purpose of speech. When one misuses the power of speech, then one also misuses the “humanness” that speech gives us.

The first letter in the Hebrew alphabet, which is the beginning of all speech, is an aleph. The aleph is an acronym for two different statements revealing how speech is to be used. The first is “emet lemed picha” “teach your mouth to speak the truth” and the other is “achad lev peh” “to be one and the same in mouth and heart” (Otiot d’Rabbi Akiva ).

When we speak, we not only create a reality, but we give permanence to that reality

It is even considered better to say something that isn’t kind or nice than to say something that does not represent what you really think. To not speak is one step better, but still problematic. Because if you are not speaking because what you think and feel shouldn’t be shared, then that in itself is a problem.

In Chassidic philosophy, there is a heavy emphasis placed on ahavas yisrael, love one’s fellow Jew. And much less emphasis is placed on the laws that apply to guarding one’s tongue and what can and cannot be said. The logic behind this is that if my focus is on loving another, I don’t need to be concerned with what I cannot say about this person, for all I will have to say will be words that are loving and kind. I can work on myself so that I don’t speak negative or painful words about another, but if I still think them, then I haven’t gained much.

Which brings us back to our original point. “When the wine goes in, the secrets come out.” Why have Chassidim always enjoyed sharing a drink, a l’chaim, with one another? Specifically because it takes away some of their inhibition. It allows them to feel more relaxed and comfortable and open about sharing their thoughts and feelings. And when one ideally spends his or her time working on oneself and trying to improve constantly, then sharing those thoughts and feelings should be a step in growth and development, not in destruction.

This is why I have heard it said that Chassidim have always favored Vodka as the drink of choice. Vodka is clear, you can see right through it. When two Chassidim hold up their cups to say “L’Chaim” (to life) and toast one another, they are truly saying that it is through this liquid that I see you and connect to you, and this liquid should serve as a catalyst for further bonding.

Only what is in the mind and heart can come out through the mouth

Yet we all know the dangers that alcohol can bring about as well. For anything, when misused or abused, reverts to the other extreme in the negative. But whatever it is that comes out, must have been there in the first place. Perhaps because of the lack of inhibition one says things that one should not have said. One acts in a way that one would not have acted if sober. But nonetheless, a non violent person doesn’t suddenly hit, and a gentle and loving person doesn’t suddenly spew hateful remarks. For only what is in the mind and heart can come out through the mouth. The mouth is only a vessel, it is only a bridge, it is not a source.

Our mouth is the conduit through which our soul can be expressed. When negativity or hatred comes out of the mouth, it is not the mouth that is the problem. It is the root, the mind and heart, that are in need of serious reflection. For the soul is only considered human when we behave like a “speaking spirit.” When we do not, then we are mere animals who have lost our ability to think, feel, and share, for animals act and react, they do not speak.