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It only takes a word

By Warren Shapiro

Berachot 7 is a bumper Daf – extending over twelve pages, jampacked with ideas of whether Hashem prays, how long a moment is and whether there is a link between the name you have been given and the life you will lead.

I was very taken with a discussion in the opening pages, about Balaam the Prophet – the man who was planning to curse the Jews but ended up praising them. It is said that Balaam was incredibly powerful because he knew when Hashem was angry and could utter a curse at that very point, when its effect would be strongest. This leads to a discussion about when Hashem gets angry, and for how long. There is a difference of opinion about how long Hashem is angry for – it is agreed that it is for a “moment” but how long is that?? The Rabbonim differ – the Almighty is angry either for 1/58,888 of an hour or the time it takes to say one word.

So, the Sages ask – what word could Balaam have said in “a moment” that was such a powerful curse? The answer : destroy.

This resonates with me – Balaam could destroy a people by saying just one word. Now, let’s think about our own lives. How easy is it to destroy, to hurt with a word? How many verbal arrows that we aim at others are that brief, but that powerful? And then think about how many words we need to use to try to repair the damage, to heal the wound?

We are blessed with the power of speech but, as Spiderman says, with great power comes great responsibility. We need to think more about what we say and how we say it, we need to take more time to consider the effect of what we say and whether it is worth it to open our mouths at all.

It is so true – “destroy” is a one-word curse. So is “hate”.

Yet, “love” and “peace” are also one word messages, that bring light and happiness and joy. They build up, they don’t break down.

So, as we are still on our spiritual journeys towards Sinai, perhaps we should consider which words we choose to use and what we hope to achieve – are we going to be Balaam or Beautiful?