May I Have a Word?

In January 2007, in a dazzling speech at San Francisco’s Moscone Center, Steve Jobs introduced his iPhone with these words, “Every once in a while a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything…” 

On June 4th, 1940, Winston Churchill gave a speech warning of a possible Nazi invasion.  This was its climax:

“We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

Just over 3,300 years ago, Moses concluded a 36-day long speech to Israel with these words:

I’m 120 years old today and can no longer go out and come in for the Lord has said to me, ‘You will not cross this Jordan.’ The Lord your God will cross before you; he will destroy these nations from before you and you shall inherit them. Joshua, he will cross over before you as the Lord has spoken.

(Deuteronomy 31:2-3)

Do you think it would have been as effective had Steve Jobs sent everyone an email about the new iPhone?  Within a week of its release, Apple sold about a million iPhones; by the end of 2007 about ten million, and to date about 85 million.  Without Steve Jobs’ iconic speeches, would those sales figures have been achieved? 

In 1940, some of England’s leaders, men like Lord Halifax, considered the attempt to defeat Hitler to be hopeless.  Their call to cut a deal with Hitler was especially persuasive after France unexpectedly fell to the Germans and the British Expeditionary Force was ignominiously rescued from the beach of Dunkirk.  Over three hundred thousand soldiers were saved from annihilation by a heroic fleet of small boats, arriving back in England early June 4th.  It is hard to imagine England recovering its nerve and its determination to fight had Churchill urged England never to surrender in a newspaper column.  Instead he mesmerized the nation with his speech that afternoon.

Just before his impending death, Moses handed to Joshua the leadership of Israel on the eve of their most formidable challenge—defeating barbaric tribes and conquering the Promised Land.  The spies had earlier demoralized the Children of Israel with terrifying accounts of the land’s impregnability and what is more the people were anxious about a future without the man who had guided them for over forty years. Yet, after Moses’ speech the Torah concludes by informing us that the Children of Israel listened to Joshua as Moses had directed. (Deuteronomy 34:9)  Without this monumental speech by Moses, could the leadership transition and the subsequent inheritance of the Land have occurred? 

Speeches can transform our destiny.  We hold enormous power in our speeches.  When your spouse agreed to marry you, it was probably after one of your best speeches. When you got your favorite job or scored your biggest sale it was after another of your effective speeches.  When you influenced friends or persuaded someone towards your point of view, you were employing your power of speech.

The Torah is more about actions than beliefs.  For instance, it tells us to love the Lord our God rather than to believe in Him. (Deuteronomy 6:5).  It focuses on walking, sacrificing, and eating rather than on thinking, theorizing, and speculating.  Which action verb does the Torah mention more than any other?  Words for say, speak, or talk appear nearly five times more frequently than any other verbs. Instructions for using the power of speech correctly abound in Scripture as do examples of tragedies that came about because of the wrong use of that Godly gift to humanity. Never underestimate the power of your mouth. 

Reprinted from December 5, 2012

4 thoughts on “May I Have a Word?”

  1. off subject Teacher sorry- what i remember most from “Fiddler” is when Tevye will not bless his daughter’s relationship with the russian soldier…in the religion of progressivism (aka “modern judaism”) “love is love”… Tevye will not buy into that….where there is “modern judaism” there is no Tevye…

  2. Years ago I read a proponent of the Qabalah, a Dr. Edward Hoffman, who introduced the Hebrew alphabet including a series of profound meditations for each Hebrew letter. I employed his Hebrew stamp set to learn the Hebrew letters. For the letter PEI [ פף ] he wrote of the power of human speech: that speech by Divine definition releases spiritual energy into the Universe. We must use our tongues wisely: to know what to say and ALSO to know what NOT to say. I am so grateful to him and also to you, dear Rabbi and Susan, for illustrating the awesome power of human speech, both constructive and destructive: it’s all up to us. But we will receive reward for our wise use or punishment for our foolish misuse of our tongues, for the positive or negative spiritual energy that we have released into God’s Universe.

  3. After all that is said about Moses, leader, emancipator, law giver this is my favorite:

    7Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died; his eyes were undimmed and his vigor unabated.

    Society, Inc. Jewish Publication. The Torah: The Five Books of Moses, the New Translation of the Holy Scriptures According to the Traditional Hebrew Text (p. 619). The Jewish Publication Society. Kindle Edition.

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