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Friday, 24 April, 2020 - 3:31 pm

Birds tweet.jpg Photo by Kyle Head on Unsplash

When the Torah portion converges with current events, you absolutely know that every rabbi is going to discuss it. This week’s Torah portion discusses quarantine - yes, it’s really true, check it up for yourself. 

But in all honesty there’s something else that struck me about the theme of this week’s Torah portion: The power of words. 

While the actual discussion in the portion doesn’t take place today - no one is being affiliated with spiritual ailments that physically manifest the way it’s described in the portion. Nor are we offering sacrifices as part of the process of refinement. That doesn’t mean we can’t glean guidance from the message - on the contrary, it brings it into greater focus. 

Briefly, the portion describes an instance where someone who was engaged in negative speech patterns would be affiliated with a particular skin disease. This would render them impure and would require extended sequestration and quarantine. 

Once the disease had cleared, an indication of the spiritual rectification accomplished by the individual, a peculiar ritual would take place as part of their refinement process. The Torah describes that the Kohen would take two birds (among other items), slaughter one and send the other out into the field. 

The commentaries explain that birds - known to tweet long before humans ever used Twitter - were a reminder that speech shouldn’t be used mindlessly. A person should think before speaking, not simply tweet excessively like a bird.

Why then were there two birds? And why was one slaughtered and the other set free?

Because there are two types of speech: negative, destructive speech and positive, constructive speech. 

Both are extremely powerful and far reaching. Both, once expressed, cannot be taken back. One should be “slaughtered” and removed. The other should be set free, into the field.

Nowadays the power of speech is even more relevant. We can use it to divide, deride and degrade. Or we can use it to unite, elevate and embrace.

Instead of taking to social media to rant about one thing or another, perhaps a better use of our phone and our time is to call someone and check in to see how they’re holding up. Never underestimate the power of speech - especially when employed to bring a smile to someone’s face and warmth to their soul.

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