“Say and You Shall Say” – Correcting the Damage Done Through Speech
On the verse that states, “Say to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and you shall say to them” (Leviticus 21:1), Rashi explains in the name of the Sages: “ ‘Say and you shall say’ – to warn the adults regarding the minors” (Yebamot 114a). We see a great principle here: The Torah warns the adults, the Talmidei Chachamim, and enjoins them to watch their words so that they penetrate the hearts of the minors, for a Rav should speak pleasantly and behave correctly (Hagigah 14b). Not only that, but he should speak from the deaths of his heart so that his words enter the hearts of others (see Berachot 6b), for if he addresses his students with love and brotherhood, they will accept what he says. His words will penetrate their hearts and they will elevate themselves.
This is the meaning of the remainder of the verse, namely: “Each of you shall not contaminate himself to a [dead] person among his people” (Leviticus 21:1), for if an adult is not careful about his speech, he will make himself impure by his words among his people. A Rav should also be careful that his students not become impure among their people, all this by means of “say and you shall say,” i.e., he should reprimand them, as the Torah commands: “You shall surely rebuke your fellow” (ibid. 19:17).
On the same subject, let us add that a person’s words should be imprinted with holiness and purity, which will enable them to enter the hearts of listeners. It may be that this is the connection between Parshiot Kedoshim and Emor. In addition, a person must speak with humility, which brings to mind the connection with Parsha Behar that follows, for there Mount Sinai is mentioned, the mountain that abased itself to such a degree that the Torah was given upon it (Sotah 5a). Without humility, one’s words will contain sin, for the word anavah (“humility”) has the same numerical value, counting the word itself, as avon (“sin”). By “say and you shall say,” the Torah warns us to speak with holiness and purity, and also with humility and submissiveness.
We may yet raise another point. By the words “say and you shall say,” the Torah teaches us not to say anything but constructive words in the home. This is so as not to provoke any regrettable incident, for “the Holy One, blessed be He, does not send any regrettable incident through the righteous” (Yebamot 28b), a subject that the Gemara discusses at length (Gittin 7a). A man should also demonstrate virtues in his behavior and not say anything but positive things to his students, for in this way they will be able to learn from him. We can actually observe how what we hear at home (for better or for worse) deeply affects us.
The end of our parsha applies this idea to the verse that states, “The son of an Israelite woman went out – and he was the son of an Egyptian man” (Leviticus 24:10), after which he blasphemed. In what way did this happen? It was by the Tetragrammaton (Vayikra Rabba 32:4), which he had heard on Mount Sinai. The Torah tells us, “The name of his mother was Shelomit bat Divri, of the tribe of Dan” (Leviticus 24:11). Why are we given the name of his mother? Rashi explains that she had committed a sin (see Vayikra Rabba 32:5). We call her bat Divri (literally, “daughter of my words”) because she was a chatterbox who spoke with everyone, which brought on this sin. It is difficult to understand how someone who had heard what was spoken on Mount Sinai could end up blaspheming!
The reason for this lies in the fact that everyone is endowed with free will, as it is written: “choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19). He is the one who should make what he saw penetrate his heart; the Holy One, blessed be He, never forces him to accept it. At home, the son of the Israelite woman heard his mother speaking the forbidden, and he reasoned that what he had heard was acceptable to say, for “what the child says in the street is what he hears at home from either his father or mother” (Sukkah 56b). That is why he blasphemed. He had probably heard it at home, and he was a chatterbox like his mother.
To explain the expression “say and you shall say,” we may also see it as an allusion to the counting of the Omer. In fact we read this parsha during the counting of the Omer, which is a favorable time to perfect oneself in the area of inter-personal relationships. This introspection constitutes a preparation for receiving the Torah, with the 48 traits by which the Torah is acquired (Perkei Avoth 6:5) corresponding to the 48 days of the counting, the last day comprising all the traits. True, in Egypt the Children of Israel had repaired the sin of gossip, as the Sages explained with respect to the passage, “Moses was frightened and said, ‘Indeed, the matter is known!’ ” (Exodus 2:14), meaning that he perceived that their slavery was due to gossip and treachery (Shemot Rabba 1:30). In addition our Sages have said (a teaching that Rashi brings up [v.28]) that the Children of Israel were delivered from Egypt by the merit of four things, one being that they did not change their language. This means that they abstained from all forms of gossip. However the essential element of preparing to receive the Torah remained the acquisition of the 48 traits, and 48 days were required before the sin of gossip could be completely repaired, for its trace lingered and required a long time to be erased. On the other hand, if a person is content to stop slandering, yet he does not work on his other imperfections, he has achieved nothing.
This idea is alluded to in the fact that during the counting of the Omer, we celebrate two Hilloulot, those of Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. Now Rabbi Meir represents the written Torah, and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (who spoke of rectifying the sin of gossip) the oral Torah (guarding one’s tongue). This is essential in preparing to receive the Torah.
This is the message that the Torah conveys in “say and you shall say.” It consists of teaching a person to practice the written and oral Torah. This is what constitutes emor (“say”): Rectify your language and abstain from speaking evil, followed by ve’amarta (“and you shall say”): Develop the 48 traits by which the Torah is acquired. This idea is alluded to in the word ve’amarta, for the letter taf represents the Torah, the letter mem (numerical value: 40) also represents the Torah, which was given in 40 days (Menachot 29b), and the letters vav, aleph, and resh have a numerical value (according to the method by which tens and hundreds are counted as ones; i.e., the resh is counted as 2 instead of 200) of 9. This combined with the numerical value of mem adds up to 49 – the 49 days of the Omer, in which we prepare for the 48 traits that enable us to acquire the Torah, the last day encompassing the whole. Actually, we damage all these traits when we slander, and they must all be repaired for us to merit arriving at the giving of the Torah in holiness and purity.