The scheduled Torah Portion for this week is named “Words”. It covers the first three chapters of the book that is generally known as “Deuteronomy”. We know that originally the name of this book was not Deuteronomy. It was “Devarim” which is the Hebrew word for “words” and it received this name because the book begins as follows: “These are the words which Mosheh (Moses) spoke to all Yisraél beyond the Yarden (Jordan) in the wilderness …” (Deut 1:1). Today, we are not going to analyze this specific portion of Scriptures. Instead we are going to look at the bigger picture: The extreme importance of words in general and the fact that Yahweh chose words of wisdom, words of instruction, words of comfort and words of life to prepare his people for the inheritance that was set aside for them from the foundation of the world.
For a long time now, people have realized just how powerful words are, and how far-reaching the effects of carefully chosen words, on the one hand, or hastily spoken words, on the other hand, can be. Some 2500 years ago the Chinese philosopher, Confucius, who, by the way, was not always as puzzled and troubled as his name suggests, said: “Without knowing the force of words, it is impossible to know more.” More recently, someone else said: “Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly — they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.” To this we may add: “Sometimes you speak, and others are pierced!” Of course, the flip side of the coin is that words can also pierce and penetrate in a positive way. Words can bring healing and forgiveness and release and understanding and hope, unlike anything else in this world. It is true what Mother Teresa once said: “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” It is even more true what is written in Kohelet (Eccl) 12:11: “The words of the wise are like goads (or rods), and the collection of words given by the only Shepherd, are like nails driven in.”
There are two examples of the power of words that came to my attention in the more recent past. The first example is from a book that someone gave me a few months ago: “The Joys of Yiddish” by Leo Rosten. Yiddish is the language, apart from Hebrew, that Jews all around the world put together for themselves and spoke since about the tenth century. It is a down-to-earth, grass-level language that contains elements of Hebrew, but also numerous elements of other languages – the languages of the countries in which the Jews had lived all those years when they did not have a country of their own. More than any other language known today, Yiddish has the ability of forming and using words that are creative, powerful and to the point, without necessarily abiding by the rules of language, in general. A good example is the way in which Yiddish would use the small syllable “…nik” at the end of a word to give an extremely exact description of a person. An “alrightnik” is someone who had succeeded in life and knows it all too well and therefore thinks too much of himself. A “nogoodnik” is someone who is a “no good” irresposible, undependable person. A “nudnik” is someone who makes a pest of himself by nagging and complaining all the time. And to show just how versatile the Yiddish language is, one would even find the word “phudnik” in this language. Of course a “phudnik” is just a “nudnik” with a PhD! No wonder that Leo Rosten writes in his book that Yiddish is a tongue that never takes its tongue out of its cheek!
The second example of the power of words is from a movie that we watched last week, for the second time around: The Book Thief, from the book with the same title, by Markus Zusak. Without giving away too much of this excellent movie, the main storyline is about a foster child, Liesel, who comes into contact with a Jewish young man, Max, during the Second World War and, in an effort to keep him alive when he became critically ill, steels books from the house of the German mayor of the town which she would then read to Max while he is unconscious, hidden away in her foster house. Earlier, when Liesel arrived at her foster home, she could not read at all. Her stepfather, Hans, taught her to read and gave her a love for words and books. At one stage the Jewish young man, Max, gave Liesel a blank book and said to her: “This one is not for reading. It is for writing. In my religion we’re taught that every living thing, every leaf, every bird, is only alive because it contains the secret word for life. That’s the only difference between us and a lump of clay. A word. Words are life, Liesel. All those pages, they’re for you to fill.”
Words are life. The words contained in Scriptures are powerful, almost explosive, and filled with the potential of turning people’s lives upside down. Remember the tears of joy last week when four black brothers held the newly printed Xhosa Scriptures in their hands! I think they realized something of how this volume of words can make a difference in the lives of thousands of people. They realized that the words contained in this book were tested, approved and embraced over many centuries, but they also realized that for the first time a Xhosa translation contained words declaring and announcing the Name of the Almighty (Yahweh) and the Name of his Son (Y’shua) – clearly and without hesitation! Someone once said: “I am are the two most powerful words. What you put after them shapes your reality.” Since the very beginning Yahweh has completed sentences beginning with “I am” and revealed more and more of his true being and his character. But that is not all. He also revealed that He, Himself, is the starting point of all that exists. That is why knowing and calling upon and holding onto his Name is so important. For his Name, Yahweh, means “I am”. It is impossible to understand our own existence without recognizing the Name of the “I am” – who is not only the starting point, but also the destination of our own existence, our own stories beginning with the words “I am”.
The power of words may be found on almost every page of Scriptures. There is a promise in Scriptures that Yahweh will never withdraw or remove his words from the mouths of those who have chosen to hold fast to his covenant: Isa 59:21 “As for Me, this is My covenant with them, said Yahweh: My Spirit that is upon you, and My Words that I have put in your mouth, shall not be withdrawn from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your descendants, nor from the mouth of your descendants’ descendants, said Yahweh, from this time and forever.” What is so special about having the words of Yahweh in one’s mouth? Let us take a look at some of the things that we may expect when the words of Yahweh become part of our lives:
1. We shall find out that Yahweh has made us the head and not the tail. Deut 28:13-14 And Yahweh shall make you the head and not the tail. And you shall be only on top, and not be beneath, if you obey the commands of Yahweh your Elohim, which I command you today, to guard and do and do not turn aside from any of (his) Words …
2. We shall come to know the purity and the integrity of Yahweh’s words. Ps 12:6 The Words of Yahweh are clean Words, silver tried in a furnace of earth, refined seven times.
3. We shall see light and understand things that were previously unknown to us. Ps 119:130 The opening up of Your words gives light, giving understanding to the simple.
4. We shall develop a greater urge to thank and to praise Yahweh. Ps 138:4-5 Let all the sovereigns of the earth give thanks to You, O Yahweh, when they shall hear the words of Your mouth and let them sing of the ways of Yahweh, for great is the esteem of Yahweh.
5. We shall walk without difficulty and run without stumbling. Pro 4:10-12 Hear, my son, and accept my words, and (then) … when you walk your steps shall not be hindered, and if you run you shall not stumble.
6. We shall rejoice because of his words and the knowledge of his Name. Jer 15:16 Your words were found, and I ate them, and Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart. For Your Name is called on me, O Yahweh, Elohim of hosts.
7. We shall discover that Y’shua’s words are words of everlasting life, because He is the fulfillment of the words of Yahweh spoken from the very beginning of time. Joh 6:68 Then Shimón Kepha answered Y’shua, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life.No tags for this post.