The human body is made up of two sets of muscular systems,
one of which is the involuntary system which activates
various organs in our body without our conscious intervention
or even knowledge. No person can arrest his cardiac activity,
nor can he control the muscular workings of his stomach and
intestines. The function of these muscles is not controlled
by our will or decision.
The second system includes voluntary muscles which do
function according to our conscious will. We are fully
responsible for the motion and actions of our hands and feet,
for example, for they will only move if we will them to do
so. Through a microscopic lens, one can differentiate between
the two kinds of muscles.
We sometimes come across a person suffering from some
pathological phenomenon where some voluntary muscle in the
body suddenly turns independent; it will act without its
"host" actually commanding it to do so, and perhaps even
against his express will. We are filled with pity at the
sight of a shoulder twitching involuntarily, or a face being
contorted by a violent tic. The nerves which activate those
particular muscles have escaped the control of the person and
no longer fully obey his will and command. We all pray that
we not be subject to such a pitiful phenomenon where we lose
control of the voluntary muscles in our body.
If someone were to ask us if the tongue is operated by
voluntary muscles or involuntary muscles, we would laugh.
Everyone knows that speech is a meditated act which we
control. But a second look might make us waver at such a
definitive statement. We are all familiar with such excuses
as, "It was a slip of the tongue," or, "I was upset and I
didn't think before I reacted verbally." Or the trite,
diplomatic evasion: "My words were taken out of context."
These phrases after-the-act certainly indicate a failure in
the voluntary, premeditated control over one's speech.
The speech of such a lax person has fallen to the level of
the involuntary muscles of the viscera, the digestive system.
The tongue and what it expletes are automatic functions
without any backing of thinking or cognitive decision. Some
will regard this independent or spontaneous speech lightly,
justifying it that it only occurs rarely. We can readily
realize the severity of the fault, through the help of the
Who is prepared to buy -- at a discount price and in
installments -- an excellent brand-name car with only one
fault: once in the course of every thousand kilometers,
without any forewarning, the steering wheel loses control
over the wheels for only a few seconds. Who could guarantee
that these few moments will not occur just as the driver is
making a hairpin turn above a gaping abyss, or when a massive
cement mixer is hurtling towards him on the opposite lane?
We hear of public figures getting entangled in the wake of
something they said, which raises hackles within and without.
They attempt to wriggle themselves out of the trap which they
laid with their own mouths, through all kinds of flimsy
excuses and weak justifications. After the fact, every person
clearly sees the foolishness in saying that problematic
sentence and the lack of any need to have used whatever
adjective they did which caused all the to-do.
Had the person thought a moment before speaking, he would
have spared himself a great deal of trouble and far-reaching
implications. But he didn't stop to think, and thus lost
control over what issued from his mouth.
It is interesting that such people, upon whose words many
hang, are so-called leaders, role models, public figures and
so on. It is strange that people who have no control over
themselves and the proper functioning of their limbs and
organs, presume to lead thousands of others. The ultimate
chossid, that is, a refined and exalted person, says
the Kuzari, is one who controls his emotional,
spiritual and physical powers. Only such a self-disciplined
person is worthy of governing others and their leaders.
We do not hear of gedolei Yisroel who allowed improper
words to "slip their tongue." Or the need for them to
apologize or excuse themselves for having uttered something
out of confusion or thoughtlessness. Their control over
speech is complete and full, from a clear and sound mind
which is governed by halochoh. There are things which
must be said and things which cannot be said, and never do
they mix the twain. Their speech is not automatic; rather,
every syllable that leaves their lips is voluntary and
thoroughly thought out, including far-reaching implications
and ramifications. We are filled with envy and think: How is
it possible to acquire such absolute control?
The answer is provided by the Ramban in his famous Letter. He
teaches us a cardinal rule in this area: "It is vital (to
think about) speech before you let it leave your mouth!"
He said this in connection to prayer, but immediately
continued, "And thus shall you do all the days of your life
in every utterance -- and you will not sin."
Many think about what they said only after they say it, but
the main stress in this rule of the Ramban is upon the word
"before" -- before you let it issue from your mouth. This is
the secret of gedolei Yisroel who rule over their
speech. Thinking after speaking requires apologies,
justifications and excuses. But thinking before speaking
prevents forbidden speech from being said and averts the need
to make amends through apologies and asking forgiveness.
Apologies and asking forgiveness is the plane between man and
his fellow man. But there also exists an inner plane between
man and himself. If I have said something that I later
realize should not have been said, I am left with a foul
taste in my mouth. Even more -- I feel like a failure. My
self-worth has fallen in my own eyes even if no one makes any
remark to that effect, for in my own eyes I know the truth.
This is a bad feeling that does not wane with the passing of
time; its impression is engraved upon my memory.
On the other hand, if I have been lucky enough and in a split
second I reminded myself of the paragraph in Chofetz Chaim
about the particular prohibition of saying what lies on
the tip of my tongue and I forced my lips shut and maintained
silence then, after the moment has passed, I am suffused with
a marvelous feeling of value, of self control. This is the
joy of a healthy person who is not subject to involuntary
movements beyond his control, of one who feels the power he
controls when his mind is holding the leash on his tongue and
the organs of speech. He revels in a feeling of well-being,
health of spirit and body. It is the marvelous sensation of
the tzaddik and chossid who dominate their
bodies and its corresponding powers.
The street of today adulates spontaneity, instant reaction,
automatic reflex. This is what highlights and dazzles in
sports, public debates and media interviews. But it is the
polar opposite to the chossid of the Kuzari and
the guiding lines of the Ramban. Our elite figures have no
interest in gleaning the accolades of the mindless masses but
in acquiring perfection in G-dly service where their guiding
light is the halochoh which teaches them what not to
say and how to say what must be said. Their speech is not
fast and fluent but measured and patient, allowing for
correlation between mind and tongue. Their words and their
silences are intertwined, each worth many a sela.
The day will come and all will acknowledge that in such a
great man's "knapsack" is stashed away a true ruler's
scepter. Fortunate is the one who is wise enough to choose
such a leader as his personal role model and to challenge
himself to emulate him.