On day one what happened? G-d said, let there be light.
Day two? G-d said, “let there be a heaven in the midst of the waters”
Day three: G-d said, “let there be a dry land appear”
How about day four? G-d said, let there be a separation of light and darkness”
Day five? G-d said, “ let the waters swarm with creatures…may they be fruit flies and multiply
Day six, G-d said, “Let us make man in our image.”
What’s the operative word? "Said." In other words, G-d spoke.
Why is this important and why does this have relevance and meaning to us right here, right now as we sit in synagogue. It tells us about speech and the role that speech plays in our lives.
Now…Think back to a month ago, Sept 18, what were we doing? Getting ready for the HH. Making menu plans. Extending invitations. Grocery shopping for the dinners. Sending out cards.
And then comes RH and YK and what do we do? We attend services. And what do we do in service? We pray. And how do we pray? Through speech. By speaking. Just like what G-d did for six days, when he uttered the words, “let there be light, and heaven, and earth, and creatures…”
And that got me thinking about what we prayed. One prayer we recited on Yom Kippur still stands in my mind over two weeks later — the 44 confessions that constitute the Al Chet. Do you know that we recited the Al Chet 10 Times during the 25 hour fast? No other prayer, to my knowledge is uttered, more times. Why do you think that is?
Maybe the sages who authored this prayer knew something about human psychology —the more frequently we repeat something, the likelier we are to remember it. Meditate on our errant ways of the past year enough times ( 10 times and 44 confessions each time equals 440 times!) and perhaps we will better stick to our new year’s resolutions long after the last apple has been dipped in honey.
But there’s another reason why the Al Chet still resonates. Of all the transgressions we confessed to in this prayer, none was mentioned more frequently than those committed by our tongue. through speech —
For the sins we have committed before thee through:
· Through speech
· Through impurity of speech
· Through foolish talk
· Through Vulgar talk
· Evil talk
· Through lying
· Through tale bearing
· Through swearing in vain
In all, 11 different ways that speech can hurt us and harm others. That careless language is so easy to indulge in is the reason why I believe we are reminded of it so many times.
In a society where trash-talking reality TV commands outsized attention and influence on our lives, what incentive is there for us to show restraint and thought in our own daily discourse?
Enter the Al Chet to remind us that as Jews, we don’t take our cues from celebrity culture. Indeed, the struggle to guard our tongues itself can be seen as a metaphor for the larger struggle of being a good Jew. Both are difficult, both demand discipline, both set high moral standards for our conduct. But by raising the bar on our speech, our behavior and our character throughout the rest of the year, we are acknowledging our commitment to the vows we made just days ago.
And how best to remain faithful to those vows when life gets in the way? Here’s a suggestion. After Shabbat, take some time to write down your top three new year’s resolutions. Maybe one of them can include an effort to guard out speech. Insert it into your Passover Haggadah. As you flip through the Haggadah come next March, you’ll stumble upon the note you wrote to yourself six months prior, affording the opportunity to review your progress, acknowledge your accomplishments or get back on track if you’ve strayed from the course.
In conclusion, to tie it all together, Judaism teaches us that all human beings are created in the divine image and therefore we all have a spark of G-d within in us, that connects us to G-d. If that’s the case. I can think of a better way to honour and elevate G-d, our G-d who created the world through what he said, than by elevating our selves through resolving to watch what we say, and how we talk and speak in 5775.