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Mishlei 21-23 (Speech — Vigilance)

Mishlei 21-23

Speech – Vigilance

Key Concepts

The organs of the body that give a person the power of speech enable him to communicate and to teach the wisdom of Torah. But these are such powerful instruments, they can cause great harm if not used carefully and guarded to avoid misuse. A person can easily get into trouble by using this power for prohibited speech and by using it in excess.

Exploring Mishlei

To ensure vigilance over the power of speech, the proverb focuses on the mouth and the tongue, which are the most prominent organs of speech.

כג = שֹׁמֵר פִּיו וּלְשׁוֹנוֹ שֹׁמֵר מִצָּרוֹת נַפְשׁוֹ

(23) He who guards his mouth and his tongue
keeps his soul from trouble.

Learning Mishlei

(23)  He who guards his mouthשֹׁמֵר פִּיו
and his tongue,וּלְשׁוֹנוֹ
his soul from trouble.מִצָּרוֹת נַפְשׁוֹ.

Additional Insights

[1] The mouth and tongue are partners in administering the ability to express human thought, which is a defining quality of the soul. By guarding them from the sin of prohibited speech, the person is protecting his soul from any evil. (אבן עזרא)

[2] The mouth and tongue are responsible for related functions and therefore need to be guarded in tandem: the mouth from prohibited food and the tongue from prohibited speech. (אבן עזרא)

[3] A person is tempted to think of the power of speech as a total gift. He should not think that since it now belongs to him, he can do what he wants with it. ( מדרש תנחומא)

[4] There is a relationship between the phrase “troubles of the soul” (צָּרוֹת נַפְשׁוֹ) and the expression for “tzaraas of the soul” (צָרַעַת נַפְשׁוֹ) which can be understood as an affliction of the soul. (מדרש תנחומא).

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