Psalm 33:6 declares: “By the Word of God the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all of their hosts.”
Sound is energy. Divine speech is the outpouring of creative energy – energy with a specific plan and purpose.
The Baal Shem Tov teaches that it is not just Divine speech that is creative, human speech is creative as well. For example, when a public speaker prepares his talk, like the Creator, he first thinks, then builds and finally he vitalizes. The speaker begins by thinking – he gathers ideas and material for his talk; then he constructs his ideas into a form, and lastly, he imbues it with his spirit so that it comes alive for his audience.
Similarly, when we pray, our words create a centrepoint of spiritual force, which then draws an answering emanation from the Kingdom of Heaven. Together, these two emanations build a form composed of light and love that can then be used to further the work of the Divine Plan.
According to the Baal Shem, it is the quality of our speech that will determine whether or not it becomes a creative force. When we speak words for the sake of Heaven, we arouse the “Divine Utterances” by which the world was created and cause them to emanate of their spiritual livingness to all the lower worlds. But when we speak words that are negative, then there is no arousal of the supernal speech. As a result, the Divine flow to the lower worlds becomes cut off and therefore nothing is spiritually created.
Speech activates the throat center, which then directs energy out in a specific direction. The quality of the energy emitted is determined by the nature of the emotion and thought which accompanies it. If we have coarse emotions and base thoughts, then our energy will have a low vibration that will produce a negative effect on our consciousness and on the consciousness of those around us.
On the other hand, if we are in an evolved spiritual state, our speech then becomes an effective tool for God’s work. The emanation of our throat centre will have tremendous spiritual power and authority. The resulting words will uplift the consciousness of every person that they touch and can influence the lives of hundreds or even thousands of people.
The Baal Shem takes this basic understanding of the energy that is embodied in speech and applies it to a much more far-reaching issue: the exile of the Shechinah – the Divine Presence. He asks: what is the reason that the Shechinah is in exile? He replies that the Shechinah is in exile because:
“Through our many sins, all our speech is for [the sake of] bodily desires. Even the speech that is during prayer and learning is [filled] with foreign thoughts and distractions.”
To understand the connection that the Baal Shem is making between speech and the exile of the Shechinah, we must realize that in the Kabbalah, the mouth symbolizes the sephirah of malkut – the centre at the base of the spine. Therefore, speech represents the emanation of the sephirah of malkut, which is the creative energy of the Shechinah.
The Baal Shem is telling us that because we have lost our higher state of consciousness, because our thoughts are focused on physical things and not on God (so much so that even our prayer has become physical), our words no longer have spiritual power. Or, to put it another way, because of the material nature of our consciousness, our words are no longer a suitable vessel for the creative energy of the Shechinah, and hence, the Shechinah is in exile.
In another teaching, the Baal Shem Tov expands upon this idea of a connection between speech and the exile of the Shechinah. In this second teaching he states:
“All words and speech are from Her, and therefore all must be for the service of God, but through our sins we have taken these words [that have created the world and that come from the Shechinah] and used them for physical things, for idle talk and lies.”
Normally, we think of words as a means of communication between individuals. Therefore, to us “right speech” is a question of learning to say the right words. The Baal Shem is trying to impress upon us the idea that speech is, in fact, much more than this. It is a powerful spiritual force that taps into the energy that created the universe. If we use our speech correctly, our words can raise up the whole of creation and bind it to God.
No word should be spoken carelessly. Every word that we utter has enormous importance. Learning when to speak and when to remain silent is an integral part of the spiritual life. Learning how to link our thoughts and our speech is an essential discipline for all those who hope to restore the presence of the Shechinah to Israel.
If speech has such great power, then it is not just the words we speak that have spiritual import, but also the words that we hear. This is why all of the traditions urge us to spend as much time as possible in the company of saints and other holy people. In this company, we will not only hear holy words, but we will soak up the more refined energy of the sacred atmosphere; its spiritual vibration will naturally and effortlessly flow into our centres and consciousness.
On the other hand, if we find ourselves seated among people who are speaking a lot of idle talk, the Baal Shem counsels us to attach ourselves with a strong bond to God. Then the words of idle talk will have no affect upon us. In fact, our thoughts may even help to raise the consciousness of those around us.
Rebbe Ephraim of Sadilkov, the Baal Shem Tov’s grandson, taught that the Tzaddik or realized soul has the power to transform all forms of talk into words of holiness.
“Sometimes, the tzaddik will sit amidst a group of people and speak with them about physical matters and stories that appear to be just idle talk. In reality, however, while this tzaddik is sitting among them, he is actually attached in his thoughts to God. And even though the words that he speaks may appear to them [the listeners] to be about physical matters and idle talk, he himself perceives and contemplates in these [subjects, only] spiritual concepts and holy matters. Similarly, with regard to all other subjects that they speak about with him, and all worldly stories that they may recount to him, he always envisions [only] holy concepts.”
As the Baal Shem himself said:
“When I attach my thoughts to God, I let my mouth say whatever it wants, and I bind the words to their supernal source.”
The key to harnessing the “power of speech” is to keep our mind attached to God at all times. We accomplish this by constantly turning our thoughts inward to link with the Divine spark that is at our very core. Once we have established ourselves in this state of God awareness, we are transformed into a vessel for the sacred energy of the Shechinah. Then, our every word will be filled with spiritual livingness. And all our speech will be “for the sake of Heaven” – no matter what the subject matter may be.