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The Torah reading of Chukat deals with the concept of purification. God prescribes the procedure of the Red Heifer to cleanse us from ritual impurity. The Bat Ayin on Numbers 19:1 expands the concept of purity to the organ of the mouth. He explains that we should be careful to be pure with what we let into our mouths, namely the food that we consume, as well as what comes out of our mouths, the words we speak.

He cites the Talmud (Tractate Shabbat 104a) which talks about “a closed mouth, an open mouth.” He interprets it as meaning there are times when we need to keep our mouths closed. Whether it’s to avoid eating any food of questionable kosher status, or whether it’s to avoid saying anything that contravenes God’s desires. We should only open our mouths to permitted foods. We should only open our mouths to speak positive, helpful, kind words.


The Bat Ayin details that there is a further correlation between “closed mouth” and “open mouth.” If we succeed in keeping our mouths shut from prohibited foods, if we succeed in keeping our mouths shut from talking inanities, of using foul, hurtful language, or of gossiping, then God, as recompense, will “open” His mouth. He will “open” the mouth of Heaven to rain upon us a bounty of prosperity. If we demonstrate that we can keep our mouths closed when appropriate, God will demonstrate that He can open the mouth of plenty, the mouth of ample sustenance as an appropriate reward for our self-control.

He further elaborates that there is an innate sanctity in the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. When we use Hebrew letters to speak words that are holy, words that are sacred, in the right place, time and context, it has a power that resonates in the heavens. It further opens up the divine gates of blessing. However, if we abuse our gift, our power of speech, then it shuts that conduit, it turns off the faucet of munificence and blocks God’s blessings from reaching us.

May we recall the dictum that life and death are in the power of our mouths.

Shabbat Shalom

Dedication: To the memory of those killed in the terrorist attack at Eli and to the full and rapid recovery of those injured.

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Rabbi Ben-Tzion Spitz is the former Chief Rabbi of Uruguay. He is the author of over a dozen books on Torah themes, including a Biblical Fiction series. He is the publisher of a website dedicated to the exploration of classic Jewish texts, as well as TweetYomi, which publishes daily Torah tweets. Ben-Tzion is a graduate of Yeshiva University and received his Master’s in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University.