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    When words matter

    untitledThe haftarah of Shabbat Shuvah says, “Return, Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled in your iniquity” (Hos. 14:2).

    Why do people commit iniquity? Generally it’s because they have stumbled and tripped. Even if one sins deliberately, they are guilty of stumbling – in their thinking.

    Maimonides says that the true nature of a human being is to do the right thing, and if they go wrong it is because they were taken over by a (stumbling) spirit of stupidity that led them astray.

    Most sins, however, are not deliberate. The stumbling in such cases was not so much in the mind but in one’s carelessness.

    The way to overcome iniquity is also set out in the haftarah: “Take with you words, and return to the Lord” (Hos. 14:3). Another interesting idea.

    To regret your deeds in your mind is an essential first step in repentance and God know what it has cost you to reach that moment.

    Why then are words necessary? Why must a person have to say, chatati, “I have done wrong”?

    It’s not that God needs to hear the words – He hears the things that are not articulated! – but the words are important for us.

    The human being is unique, say the sages, because of ru’ach m’mall’la, the “spirit of speech”.

    Words matter to the speaker, not just to the listener.

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