Picking Up And Putting Down
In what seems about a hundred years ago in the late sixties when all manner of New Age spirituality was taking off, some of us started to take an interest in the teachings of an arcane 19th century Russian called Gurdjieff.
A friend of mine described how, as a young spiritual seeker, he joined a Gurdjieff group. (The leader of the group just happened to be Jewish surprise, surprise!) The group was working on itself to try and internalize the principle that the biggest barrier to our psychological and spiritual awakening is the desire to put other people down. The study groups maxim was Dont let a putdown pass your lips!
At the tender age of 19, putdowns didnt seem like such a big deal to him and he found it strange that the promised path to spiritual awakening should be something that seemed rather peripheral to life. However, my friend took it upon himself to uphold this principle.
After a few months, of somewhat episodic performance of this maxim, my friend was intrigued to find that this single discipline had started to illuminate many hidden and sometimes uncomfortable feelings. This one piece of self-restraint was uncovering a deeper negativity that was self-directed.
Ultimately, my friend found his way back to Judaism and when he started to learn this weeks parsha, he was amazed to find that the principles he had ascribed to a Russian mystic were, in fact, from a much older source.
The title of this weeks parsha is Metzora. Metzora can be read as an acrostic for Motzei shem rah denigrating remarks about others. This weeks parsha begins with the process that has to be undertaken by someone who has sullied the power of speech.
What is the secret power of positive speech? Why does what one say have such a great influence on ones sense of spiritual wellbeing?
In Hebrew, the word for a thing davar and the word for word are identical. On a deeper level, every thing in this world is no more that G-ds speech. G-d created the world with speech. And G-d said, Let there be light And G-d said And G-d said The entire creation and its continued existence is nothing more that G-d speaking.
When our speech contains no putdowns, obscenity, nor innuendo of obscenity; when our lips articulate the support of our fellow man and every word that leaves our mouths carries the stamp of kosher speech, its no wonder that we feel in touch with ourselves, for we are in touch with the essence of creation itself.
Whereas Gurdjieff-like disciplines focus on the benefits to the individual, the Torah is equally concerned with the impact of positive speech on the world at large. For when our speech is correct and appropriate we become partners with G-d in the work of the creation. Our words literally become things. Our speech metamorphoses into the fabric of existence itself.
Based on a story by Mrs. Sarah Shapiro in American Jewish Spirit