> Weekly Torah Portion > Parents & Kids > Family Parsha

Clean Speech


Emor (Leviticus 21-24 )

by Nesanel Yoel Safran

Cursing and using foul language is not only abusive, but it lowers the esteem of the person speaking that way. In this week's portion we see how negatively the Torah looks at cursing language (24:10-16) and we can learn from here the importance and value of keeping our speech positive and clean.

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In our story, a kid discovers the difference clean language can make.


Jon's fingers slowly but surely crept over the piano keys. Wow, it was actually starting to sound like a song for once, he thought, as Mr. Berman, his piano teacher looked on approvingly. Forgetting himself, his fingers suddenly slipped off key and messed up the song.

"Oh, *&%^$#@#!!! Not again!!!" Jon cried out, cursing.

"Jon, don't worry. The only way to learn is to make lots of mistakes." The teacher reassured him. "But tell me something - why do you have to cheapen yourself?"


"The way you just cursed. It really cheapens you. Why do you speak that way?"

"I dunno," Jon said, a bit embarrassed. "I got mad...and, besides, everyone talks that way. Um...should I try the song again?"

"Absolutely. But first, do you mind if I sit at the keys for a minute or two and give it a whirl?"

"Sure!" Jon loved it when his music teacher, a professional musician, played. It was like getting a private concert.

The man sat down to play, looked up at Jon and said, "The piano is a great instrument, isn't it? But each of us has an even greater instrument. Do you know what that is?"

Jon shook his head.

"It's our words and the way we speak - it's the instrument we use to express our selves and our souls. When we speak in clean, positive words, we sound like this": the man's fingers began gliding over the keys in a cool, soft jazz tune that made Jon sway to the rhythm and smile.

"Sounds nice, huh?" he went on. "People are willing to pay me a lot of money to hear me play like this and for me to teach them how to do it too." Jon nodded his head. Playing music like that was his dream.

Suddenly the man began pounding loudly and randomly on the keys, like a toddler taking a temper tantrum. The noise was so bad, Jon had to cover his ears.

"How much do you think someone would pay to hear me play like this?" the man yelled out over the din.

"Nothing!" Jon yelled back. "That's awful!"

"That's right. It's awful, worthless noise. And that's just what we turn ourselves into when we curse and use foul language, no matter how angry, no matter how frustrated we are. You're a good, respectable guy, Jon. Full of the beautiful music of clean speech. Don't blow it by blowing out cheap, disgusting noise."

He stood up. "Okay, I've played - and said - my piece. Now it's your turn to practice. Go ahead."

Jon, his ears still ringing a little, dutifully sat down to play. Note by note, the song he'd been practicing slowly unfolded until he hit a snag and messed up.

"Ooh...!!!" He was about to curse out the piano as usual, when he felt a struggle inside. It would sure feel good in a way to let a few good ones fly...but it wouldn't be any better than that horrible noise he'd just heard. In fact it would be worse, because it wouldn't be a piano making those cheap, disgusting sounds ... it would be him!…"Wow, I'm really mad!" he finally sputtered out. And he was, but he was also smiling, because he knew that by holding back from foul language, Jon had passed his test and just made some beautiful music of the soul.

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Ages 3-5

Q. How did Jon feel at first when his teacher asked him not to curse?
A. He felt like it was okay to speak that way and it didn't matter.

Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. Using bad words felt cheap and disgusting.

Ages 6-9

Q. What life-lesson do you think Jon learned that day?
A. He had just taken it for granted that there was nothing wrong with using foul language - especially when he was angry. But his teacher's 'demonstration' helped him realize that the way we speak is important and foul language only makes a person seem and feel crude and cheap.

Q. How does foul language 'cheapen' a person?
A. Although words may seem harmless and inconsequential, they actually are one of the deepest parts of a person and directly affect our soul. The way we speak reveals who we are inside. A person who curses or uses foul language not only cheapens himself in the eyes of others but lowers his self-esteem as well.

Spiritual Exercise: Today, make an effort at least one time to speak in an extra clean way.

Ages 10 and Up

Q. What can a person do if he wants to use cleaner speech, but he's around others who don't?
A. It could at first feel uncomfortable or difficult to change the way we speak. But as we go on it will become second nature and not only will we start to feel better about ourselves, we could even eventually inspire others through our example to 'clean up' too.

Q. In your opinion, does the way a person speaks (clean vs. unclean) affect the people around him? If so, how?
A. Unclean speech is in its essence, a form of violence and abuse. Even if said jokingly or seemingly with the approval of those listening, it has the effect of bringing down the speaker and the listener spiritually. It also fosters more aggression in the world, verbally and eventually even physically. Clean speech is a deceptively simple, but highly effective, way to create a better, more peaceful world.

Spiritual Exercise: Today, make an effort at least one time to speak in an extra clean way.

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