By Zalman M. Isaacs
Formerly forbidden, frowned upon, and outright unforgivable, foul words have recently reared their ugly head. Too often, I encounter them in casual conversation, or perhaps at the wheel of a car after a shortstop. They are sometimes used to punctuate a sentence, to drive home a point, and even uttered out of pure instinct.
Years ago, this language was reserved for certain elements of society. It used to reflect a person’s state of being. One’s choice of wording spoke volumes, toxic language meant a toxic soul. But things have changed. New terminologies have infiltrated our vocabulary. What used to be thought is now being articulated, what was once whispered is now shouted.
After some cursory googling, it seems that a certain stigma has been lifted. Psychologists now recommend that people mouth off from time to time. Studies have shown that cursing relieves stress, dulls the sensation of pain, fosters camaraderie among peers and is linked with traits like verbal fluency, openness and honesty.
In addition, modern literature (including; books, articles, and all forms of social media) is replete with all types of creative invectives.
As we are so immersed in this culture, it is easy to ignore our rapid degeneration. Wake up. We are in a sorry state. Our eidelkeit is vanishing, our innocence lost, our sensitivities are being dulled. Hence the urgent need to call attention to this disease.
Yidden are baishanim (shy and modest by nature). It is against our inherent nature to allow ourselves to speak so crassly. The Torah goes to extra lengths to refer to things in the purest manner possible. The Rebbe’s lexicon taught us invaluable lessons; how to refer to a hospital, cemetery, disabled unit in the army (beis refuah, beis hachaim, metzutanei tzahal). He coined the term “special needs”, highlighting only the positive.
It’s not for nothing that seforim say that a pgam in dibbur leads to pgam habris. Vulgarity is a slippery slope. We don’t want it to traverse from speech to action.
This brings to mind a graphic story that’s recounted in the Hayom Yom of 29 Tishrei. A mild dispute soured and lost all semblance of civility when it spiraled into a shouting match culminating in the gruesome curse “I will tear you apart like a fish!” Disturbed, the Baal Shem Tov instructed his disciples to stand together and hold each other’s hands with their eyes closed. Suddenly, they started to shriek in terror – the curse had begun to unfold before their eyes. They had all witnessed a traumatic vision of the dismemberment of that individual.
Although it was only a threat, there had been somewhat of a manifestation in reality. Words have power. We must not underestimate their impact.
Ponder this for a moment, and try to erase certain words from your dictionary, in an effort to sanitize your speech. Make sure to control yourself and curb your tongue, especially in those heated moments.
If chas veshalom, you do indeed die in a car accident, what are the last words you want to have muttered under your breath? Do you pass away with Shema Yisroel on your lips or…
Those in role model positions, must take extra heed. As with everything else, the greater the position of influence, the greater the responsibility. When you sully your tongue, it causes untold damage to those around you. Either they’ll adopt the lingo too, or they’ll be shattered and traumatized. It’s a lose-lose.
Where am I going with all this? Isn’t this a tangential issue, merely indicative of a larger problem? Let’s focus on the big picture, our integration in modern culture, our susceptibility to secular influences. Then we can point fingers at the institutions, and blame all who were negligent and allowed us to sink to such depths.
But unlike the above, this doesn’t require much effort. We don’t need to assemble teams and crisis plans, the mosdos don’t need to hire new people, we don’t need to schedule events and take away people’s nights. It’s one simple thing to be mindful of – that’s it. Read this article, think about it, and forward it to a friend.
Some will argue that it is better not to discuss such topics.
But I sincerely believe this will do more good than harm. Yes, it may seem childish to complain about such trivial things, but I feel that it can go a long way in furthering our eidelkeit as a community.
Again, it shouldn’t be too hard to amend this issue. We don’t need curriculums or panels, it’s something we can figure out together. We all agree it needs work, and simply raising awareness is enough to curb its spread.
Let us all come together, to reclaim the sanctity of speech.