The truth is, the importance of speech with regard to the development of man should already be known from the Torah:God formed man from dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils a living soul, and the man became a living spirit. (Bereishis 2:7)The impact of the soul that God gave to man, which made him different from all other living beings within the totality of creation, was speech. This, then, would imply that, unlike many of our other physical abilities, our ability of speech is “rooted” high up in the spiritual realm.
A living spirit: A speaking spirit. (Onkeles)
Indeed, speech is not merely another tool to help mankind function in the physical world, like walking, or like the use of our thumbs. Speech itself is indicative of our whole raison d’etre, as the Talmud spells out:R’ Elazar said: Every man was created to toil, as it says, “Because man was made to toil ...” (Eyov 5:7). Now, I do not know if that means to toil through speech, or in actual labor; however, once it says, “A toiling soul toils for him, for his mouth compels him.” (Mishlei 16:26), I know that a person was created to toil with his mouth. I do not know, though, if this means to toil in Torah or just in regular conversation. However, once it says, “This Torah should not leave your mouth ...” (Yehoshua 1: 8), I know that man was created to toil in Torah [through speech]. (Sanhedrin 99b)No wonder why the Talmud states:Anyone who speaks distastefully will earn a negative decree from Heaven, even if they have seventy years of merits in their favor. (Kesuvos 8b)Why, a mourner, who becomes spiritually cut off from reality, has no mouth:“From this red, even this red thing ...” (Bereishis 25:30) ... Red lentils ... Ya’akov was cooking lentils to provide the customary first meal for the mourner [Yitzchak]. Why lentils? ... Just like lentils have no mouth, so too does the mourner have no mouth (Rashi, See also Babba Basra, 16b).Why Eretz Yisroel was divided according to lot, and why each lot was able to speak for itself—literally! (BaMidbar 26:56, Rashi ) and, why the beginning of Tractate Pesachim (which deals with the holiday of Pesach) consumes the first three folio pages to arrive at the importance of speaking in a fitting manner!
The upshot of all this is that talk is not cheap. It is a measure of one’s connection to da’as. What one says, and how one says it, determines how much of a “vessel” he is for the da’as of the Fifty Gates of Understanding, of Da’as Elokim. (According to Kabballah, da’as is “hidden” in the mouth. ) This is why the Talmud advocates:If you make yourself into a desert (midbar), then your Torah will remain. (Eiruvin 54a)However, with just a slight vowel change (the letters are exactly the same), midbar becomes medabehr, which means “speaker.” But not just any kind of speaker, but one through whom God Himself can disseminate Torah:... God said, “My spirit that is upon you and My words that I have placed in your mouth ...” (Yishiyahu 59:20)This is the ultimate level one can reach, when one’s mouth becomes a vehicle for Torah that comes directly from God. This is the ruach hakodesh that is the basis of Torah Sh’b’al Peh and which emanates from the mouths of the Ba’alei Mesorah, those responsible for the transmission and application of Torah Sh’b’al Peh in every generation. (Da’as is ruach hakodesh (Pri Tzadik, Parashas Korach, 4), as is Torah Sh’b’al Peh (Pri Tzadik, Parashas Chukas, 16)) And:The Holy One, Blessed is He, only made a bris with Yisroel because of the “Oral Things” (i.e., the Oral Law), as it says, “... For it is according to these words that I have made a bris with you and with Yisroel ...” (Shemos 34:27). (Gittin 60b)Hence, one of the most taken-for-granted aspects of being human, our power of speech, is one of our most spiritual.
To better appreciate this, it is important to first understand just what Geulos Mitzrayim meant to the Jewish people, and the whole world for that matter. This means going back in time twenty-six generations, to the first time a separation was made between adam and the chamor.
A lot of time has passed since Adam was cursed for having eaten from the Aitz HaDa’as Tov v’Rah. Working for a living is, for the most part, an inescapable part of being human. However, at one point in time it was appreciated for the curse that it was:To the man He said, “Because you listened to the voice of your wife, and you ate from the tree which I commanded you not to ... the ground will be cursed because of you; through great struggle you will eat all of your life. It will bring forth thorns and thistles, and you will eat the herb of the field. By the sweat of your brow, you will eat bread until you return to the earth ....” (Bereishis 3:17)Having to function physically in the physical world was, is, a curse. Before the chet, nature barely had any viable form, and sustenance was more a matter of miracle than machine. In Gan Aiden, miracle was nature and nature was a miracle. (Leshem Shevo V’Achlamah, Sefer HaKlallim, 2:2:1-7.) There had been nothing to distract man from serving God; nothing interfered with one’s relationship to God, since everything and everyone was immersed in holiness. As a result of the chet of eating from the Aitz HaDa’as Tov v’Rah, this changed dramatically; the hand of God became veiled.
Rebi Yehoshua ben Levi said: At the time The Holy One, Blessed is He, told Adam, ‘It will bring forth thorns and thistles ...’ tears formed in his eyes. He said before Him, ‘Master of the Universe! Will I and my donkey eat from the same trough?!’ When He answered him, ‘By the sweat of your brow you will eat bread ...’ he calmed down. (Pesachim 118a)
From the Talmud, it seems that what had bothered Adam most about his punishment was having to share the same “trough” as his chamor. Being expelled from the garden was one thing, and having to work for a living was another; but living on the same level of a chamor was more than Adam could handle—because it violated the whole purpose for creation.
It had not been the Creator’s desire to simply make a world-class zoo. Creation’s crowning achievement was Man, who, with the power invested in him through his soul, could speak, and thereby elevate the entire physical world. Through speech, man could control the physical through the spiritual, like the God Himself. This way, he could rise to the level of Tzelem-Elokim, and earn his portion in the World-to-Come, the ultimate purpose of creation. ((Derech Hashem, 1:2:1; 1:3:1.)
When Adam first learned that he would “eat of the herb of the field,” he understood this to mean that he had so violated the purpose of his existence, that he had also obliterated all vestige of any distinction between him and the rest of the physical beings of creation. It had devastated him.
However, when God completed the sentence with, ‘By the sweat of your brow you will eat bread ...’ Adam calmed down. Why? What did Adam hear that indicated that the “door” to his spiritual greatness was not completely closed? The difference is subtle, but fundamental: bread implies flour, and flour implies Torah.If there is no flour (kemach; kuf, mem, ches), then there is no Torah ... (Pirke Avos 3:21)Like all of the words of Chazal, there is pshat and sod intermingled together within one statement. On a simple level, the above states the obvious. Spirituality can come at the cost of the physical, but up to a limit. To ignore one’s physical needs completely is to, in the end, neglect one’s spiritual needs as well. However, the following reveals the sod of the above mussar:Flour comes from grinding wheat, which the Ultimate Wisdom made for this purpose. Through this, man is distinguished from the rest of the animals, as the Talmud states (Pesachim 118a):According to this, there is an extremely important connection between Adam and his donkey, and the Jewish people and theirs. For, just as it had been in the case of the first man twenty-six (the gematria kollel of Hashem’s Name!) generations earlier, a separation had occurred again between Adam—the Jewish people—and the chamor—the Egyptian people, the night the tenth and last plague wiped out the firstborn of Egypt. (The Jewish people, as opposed to the rest of the nations of the world, are called “Adam” (Yevamos 61a).)At the time The Holy One, Blessed is He, told Adam, ‘It will bring forth thorns and thistles ...’ (Bereishis 3:17), tears formed in his eyes. He said before Him, ‘Master of the Universe! Will I and my donkey eat from the same trough?!”What this means is, had it not been that his food was ground finely, he would not have been able to achieve the completion of Torah (i.e., receive Torah at Mt. Sinai twenty-six generations later) ... (Meiri, Pirke Avos 3:21)
This separation is indicated by the name of the holiday itself, Pesach. The Torah tells us that God “skipped over” (posayach) the houses of the Jews during the plague of the firstborn, thereby distinguishing between the Jewish people and the Egyptians. And the mark of this distinction: matzah, a baked mixture of only flour and water! Again, flour is the symbol of dinstinction between Adam and the chamor, and, therefore:
kemach = 148 = PesachHashkofically, this works nicely, for, replacing the word “flour” with the word “Pesach” yields:
(kuf, mem, ches) = (peh, samech, ches)If there is no Pesach, there is no Torah; if there is no Torah, there is no Pesach.This is completely true, since it was Yetzias Mitzrayim that made possible Kabballos HaTorah at Har Sinai; and, had the goal not been Kabballos HaTorah at Har Sinai, God would have had no reason to redeem the Jewish people from Egypt. Hence, the underlying message is:The production of flour, the refining of an animal food and the intellectual process of baking bread, represents a refined intelligence and spiritual capacity, without which Kabballos HaTorah is impossible. (Kabballistically, kemach is symbolic of what is produced after certain high-level “lights” (four, which are referred to as havalim, or, “breaths”) enter what is referred to as the “mouth.” The “teeth” then “chew” and “grind” (filter) them, so-to-speak, producing “flour.” This is represented by the gematria: 4 x heh, bais, lamed (hevel) = 4 x 37 = 148 = kemach (Otzros HaChaim, Sha’ari HaAkudim).) For, as Dovid HaMelech wrote:This is why it was the back of the neck (arufah - Which, as we said in the last chapter, is the same letters as the word “paroah.”), the part from which speech does not emanate, which was broken for the mitzvah of Eglah Arufah and Petter Chamor. For, the back of the neck (as opposed to the face), reveals very little in the way of the personality of a person. A face is distinct because of its features, and results in uniqueness. However, the back of a person is easily confused for someone else’s since there is very little to distinguish it from that of another person.The beginning of wisdom is the fear of God. (Tehillim 111:10)
This is illustrative of two very different types of lifestyle. A spiritually-imbued existence from a Torah perspective is distinct and full of “features,” full of life and uniqueness (like the face of a person). However, a physical existence lacking in spirituality is featureless from God’s point of view (like the back of the neck). It is not called “life” but mere existence, and this is why the Torah exhorts:Choose life (b’Chaim) that you may live! (Devarim 30:19)As opposed to merely exisiting, for, as the Talmud states:Without da’as one is not considered to be living. (Pesachim 113b)Incidentally:The numerical value [of b’Chaim—life] is seventy, to say that Torah has seventy faces to be learned, and that “Secrets (sod also equals seventy) of God to those who fear Him,” (Tehillim 25:14.) and that “the life of man is seventy years.” (Tehillim 90:10.) (Ba’al HaTurim, Parashas Nitzavim)Is there any greater hint to the fact that choosing life is a matter of choosing a perspective toward life, one that supercedes the obvious, natural reality?
Even the word chamor (which means “ingredient”) implies mere existence—physicality devoid of spirituality. Chomer is the kabballistic term used to refer to the “body” of something without the tzura, that is, the soul.
This had been Paroah and his entire society. Though they had believed in a multitudinous of gods, they had been gods in the image of man. Egyptian society epitomized a hedonistic lifestyle—chomer without the tzura.
Thus, “eating from the same trough as the chamor” is a euphemism for sharing a purely physical outlook. Separation from such an outlook, and heading in the direction of spirituality makes possible the reception of Torah—the word of God. And not only was this necessary for Kabballos HaTorah, but, it justified the whole of existence, as the possuk alludes:... And it was evening and it was morning, the sixth day [ha-shishi]. (Bereishis 1:31)Therefore, even though the Torah (and later the Haggadah) implies that we eat matzah Seder Night because the Jewish people lacked sufficient time to bake bread, the deeper truth is that they lacked time to bake bread in order that we should eat matzah Seder Night! (After all, it doesn’t take that long to bake bread, and even less time to make chometz (18 minutes).) For matzah, or, at least the kemach it represents, symbolizes the break from the vision of the Egyptian, the mentality of the chamor. (In Gittin 67a, the production of wheat is used as an analogy to describe Rebi Shimon’s intellectual capability.)The sixth day ... The letter “heh” [preceding the word shishi] is extra to say that [God] made a condition with them (all of creation): If the Jewish people accept the Five Books of Torah (Alluded to by the extra “heh” whose numerical value is five.) [then all will be fine; if not, then you will resort back to null and void]. (Rashi)
The root of this mentality we examined earlier from a historical separation from another chamor. (Section One, Chapter Five.)Avraham told the men, “You stay here (poh; peh, heh) with the donkey, while the boy and I go there (koh; chof, heh), prostrate ourselves and then return to you.” (Bereishis 22:5)At this quintessential, ideological “fork in the road,” Avraham separated himself and his seed, Yitzchak, from the chamor. Just to show how historical and ideological this separation was, the Talmud plays on the words, “with (im; ayin, mem) the donkey” and interprets them as, “the people (umm; ayin, mem) who are like the donkey,” (Moed Katan 18a. The words “with” (im) and “people” (umm) are spelled the same way, differentiated only with a slight vowel change.) generalizing the metaphor as if Avraham jettisoned all non-Jewish descendants.
In other words, Avraham had told Yishmael and Eliezer that, just like the donkey can’t see the miracle of the Shechina hovering over the mountain in the distance, neither can you. And if you can’t see that miracle, then it means you relate to God on the level of Elokim; like the chamor, you only relate to God Who runs the world through nature, not above it. Therefore, you stay here with the donkey, while we, who act like adam, go over there and worship Hashem.
This was the Shechem-vision. To be able to see Elokim, and yet be blind to Hashem, is indicative of a vision associated with Shechem, and all that occurred there. (Section One, Chapter Five.) If so, can it be assumed, when it is all-said-and-done, that it was merely a coincidence that Shechem was ben Chamor—Shechem, the son of the donkey!
Paroah also related only to Elokim. This is clear from the fact that Paroah ordered the drowning of all male babies in order to thwart God’s attempt at producing a savior for the Jewish people. He knew that God punishes measure-for-measure, and since God had promised to never destroy the world again through a flood, Paroah felt secure using water to murder all potential saviors (however, from the episode at the Yum Suf, that promise obviously did not include the drowning of a single nation). (Rashi, Shemos 1:10.)
Yet, Paroah questioned Moshe:Who is Hashem? (Shemos 5:2)Elokim, Paroah had not asked Moshe about. It was the Name Hashem Paroah had difficulty recognizing, for that level of revelation is not available to a person who sees through the same eyes as the chamor. This is why, even in spite of the miracles that happened for the Jewish people in Egypt, Paroah’s heart wouldn’t budge.
This is also why Paroah, in the face of all logic and reason, pursued the fleeing Jewish nation into the midst of the sea, risking the best of his entire army. After all, the heart can only respond to that which the eyes portray:The yetzer hara has no power over a person except whose eyes have seen. (Sota 8a)And since Paroah could only see Elokim, he felt confident chasing the Jewish people. It would have taken a tremendous miracle to save the weaker Jewish nation from the naturally stronger Egyptian army, and an even greater miracle for the sea to remain divided only long enough to allow the Jews to escape and drown the pursuing Egyptian army.
Paroah had been right about one thing and wrong about another. He had been right about the fact that Elokim works through nature, but he had been wrong about that fact that it was Hashem, not Elokim who was bringing about Yetzias Mitzrayim. It was this lack of spiritual vision that gave Yosef one-up on Paroah, for it resulted in Paroah’s inability to learn the seventy-first language—Loshon HaKodesh (the Holy Tongue)—which Yosef knew. (Sota 36b.)
For, true dibur (speech) is indicative of real da’as, which is the unification of chochmah (wisdom) and binah (understanding), (Mikdosh Me’at, 1a.) something which could not occur in Paroah. This is another way of saying that speech is a measure of the level of fusion of body and soul, and Loshon HaKodesh is the expression of the perfect union of the two. Being totally immersed in physicality and out of contact with his soul, it wasn’t relevant for Paroah to learn Loshon HaKodesh (though he tried).
Referring back to the possuk mentioned above:“You stay here (poh) with the donkey, while the boy and I go there (koh) ...the word “here” (poh) also spells the word “peh,” or mouth. However, why is “mouth” associated with the chamor, when, up until now, we have identified speech as a human thing, one that distinguishes us from the animal kingdom? The answer: it is not the peh itself that elevates man above the chamor, but how one uses his mouth, as we learn from Bilaam and his chamor.
As mentioned in the section dealing with Purim, Bilaam, like Amalek, was a Jewish nemesis. He too tried to interfere with the Jewish nation’s march to spiritual completion by inducing immodesty into the Jewish people. This he did at the behest of Balak, the king of Moav, who had complained that:... There is a nation that has gone out of Egypt who is covering the eye of the land... (BaMidbar 22:5)However, a strange thing happened on the way to Balak’s. Along the way, the donkey on which Bilaam had ben riding stopped, and refused to continue. This angered Bilaam, who had threaten to kill the donkey right then and there. However, a miracle occurred that caught Bilaam and his royal entourage completely by surprise:God was angry with Bilaam because he had gone [to Balak], and an Angel of God placed himself in the way to obstuct him. He was riding on his donkey and the two boys were with him. The donkey saw the Angel of God standing in the way with its sword drawn, and the donkey turned aside from the way and into the field. Bilaam hit the donkey to bring her back to the way. But the Angel of God stood in the path of the vineyards, which had a fence on both sides. When the donkey saw the Angel of God, she pressed herself against the wall, squeezing Bilaam’s foot against the wall; he hit her again. And the Angel of God went further, and stood in a narrow place, where there was no place to turn to either the right or the left. When the donkey saw the Angel of God, she crouched under Bilaam. Bilaam got angry and hit the donkey with a stick. Then God opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Bilaam, “What have I done to you that you have hit me three times?” (BaMidbar 22:22)This must be one of the most bizarre episodes in the entire Torah! On the surface, it seems strange that this was the only way to convey to Bilaam not to disobey God. For this reason, one must assume that there had been some deeper, more subtle point of censure regarding Bilaam’s type of disobedience. Indeed, Bilaam himself had warned Balak:Even if Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of God, my God, to do less or more. (BaMidbar 22:18)God, in turn (a few possukim later), instructed Bilaam:If the men come to you, get up and go with them. However, only that which I tell you must you do.Yet, we see that God was angered by the fact that Bilaam had accepted Balak’s invitation in the end to curse the Jewish people. Obviously, Bilaam had hoped in his heart of hearts that somehow he would be able to curse the Jewish people, even if God willed otherwise. After all, Bilaam was someone who possessed tremendous ability through his mouth. (Rashi, BaMidbar 22:4.)
God’s response to Bilaam was direct and succinct: you are no better than your chamor! In fact, you are acting on a level less than the chamor, for at least your donkey could see the angel, whereas you could not! The vision and speech that should have been yours instead became your donkey’s. Needless to say, the entire episode had left Bilaam quite speechless, at least for a little while. (According to Kabballah, Bilaam himself was rooted in the level of Da’as (Leshem Shevo V’Achlamah, Dayah, 2:1:5))
Hence, the episode of Bilaam and his chamor alludes to a higher reality, one higher than peh itself, a level of spiritual perfection alluded to by the one person who was able to counteract Bilaam. In fact, the name of this person embodies everything the mouth is meant to do, and all that mankind is supposed to achieve.
For this reason, fascinatingly enough, this person was able to reverse the curse of Adam HaRishon, at least for himself, even regaining immortality. And curiously enough, this person had an illustrious ancestor, one who himself was rooted in da’as, in the Fifty Gates of Understanding; one who happened to have been none other than Yosef HaTzadik himself.