Why Words Can Hurt

Just as words can push people apart, so too can they bring us closer.

Commentary on Parashat Chukat, Numbers 19:1 - 22:1

“Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Every child knows this popular aphorism, but the sad truth is that words do matter and they can hurt. When we feel stressed, angry and frustrated, many of us speak without thinking first. Words can become daggers that wound others as well as ourselves.

In this week’s Torah portion, Chukat, Moses is asked to provide water for the Israelites. Just before the water flows from a rock, Moses, apparently worn out by the demands of leadership, loses his temper. Moses calls his people, “You rebels,” and in exasperation, strikes the rock twice. In light of this shocking behavior, God immediately decides that new leadership is needed to bring the people into the Land of Israel.

This painful biblical episode shows how all people need to be careful with their words, especially when they occupy a position of authority. Harsh words can cut a little deeper and last a little longer when they come from someone we respect, trust, and love. That is precisely why adults need to see themselves as role models in not just what they do, but also what they say. Just as words can push people apart, so too can they bring us closer. By taking the time to think before we speak, we have a better chance of finding the right words in every situation.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the effect of their words on others.


· What can we do to make sure that we think before we speak?

· How do we respond when someone hurts our feelings with words?

· When has someone’s words of encouragement helped you?

· Water can keep us alive or drown us, and fire can warm us or destroy us. How are words similar to water and fire?

From “Values and Ethics: Torah Topics for Today,” available from Behrman House Publishers.



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