Prayer Essentials

For the week ending 28 November 2015 / 16 Kislev 5776

Expression of the Soul

by Rabbi Yitzchak Botton
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

“And G-d formed Man (Adam) of dust from the earth, and He blew into his nostrils the soul of life; and Man became a living being.”

Onkelos, in translating the phrase “a living being” states that its deeper meaning is that man became a “speaking being”. What is the message behind this apparent change from the literal reading of the verse?

It is clear to all that the main function of speech is to reveal one’s thoughts and ideas to others. What is not so clear, however, is that man’s soul, which is his life and essence, is both connected to and expressed via his ability to communicate. We can thus say that it is man’s ability to express the innermost thoughts of his soul that characterizes his essence. Accordingly, man is truly a “living being” when his soul, which is his true self, becomes a part of the world through the power of speech. This idea is hinted to in the verse, “My soul goes out with its speech (Shir Hashirim 5:6)”; that is, one’s essence becomes revealed through speech. One’s emotions are also invested in the spoken word, and therefore through speech one can unify with the one that he is communicating with on a most intimate level.

Truly, the gift of expression is the most essential of G-d’s gifts to humanity. When it is used responsibly and sincerely, people are able to share and unite with one another. What’s more, it is this very gift that allows one to share and unite with his Creator. Thus, when man expresses himself through prayer as a “speaking being”, his soul and life become attached to G-d, the Source of all life.

We thus find that Chana proclaimed with regard to her prayer, when she poured out her heart before G-d, “I have poured out my soul before G-d (Shmuel 1 103:1).” King David as well writes in Tehillim, which is filled with statements of the great love and devotion that King David had for G-d, “Let my soul bless G-d…. Let my soul praise G-d.” From the above it is clear why Onkelos connects man’s ability to speak with his very life.

When, however, man speaks empty words — or worse, when his speech is hurtful and damaging to the world and others — he is not acting out his potential to be a “living being”, since such speech does not come from one’s essence, the holy soul within man.

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