Even though we may realize the value of keeping ourselves and our environment clean, we may not realize that besides taking showers and not littering there is another important way to keep clean - using clean speech. Using foul language is like dumping garbage on ourselves and the people around us. In this week's portion, the Torah, which always says things in the fewest words possible, goes out of the way to use extra words in order to say things in a clean way, (Gen.7:8) in order to teach us the lesson that when it comes to speaking - the rule is "keep it clean."


In our story, a kid learns that keeping clean takes more than soap.


Our mom likes to joke that when Barry was a baby he changed his own diapers before she could even get to him. The truth is, if you knew my brother, you wouldn't be so sure she was joking. I mean there are neat freaks - guys who took being neat and clean seriously - but my brother Barry takes the cake.

      First of all, we all knew that if we were gonna go out somewhere we had to tell Barry at least a half an hour in advance, because there was no way he would leave the house on any kind of trip without first taking a shower and changing into freshly washed and ironed clothes. This, of course was besides the 'regular' showers he would take everyday.

      And his room - forget about it. Now I'm pretty neat and my room is never a mess, but compared to Barry's it looks like a hurricane hit it. You could take a white glove and go over all his shelves, and the glove would come out whiter than when you started! All us kids knew that going into Barry's room meant taking off our shoes, or at least wiping our feet on the mat in front of his door, and if we ever forgot, boy would he remind us in a way that made it hard to ever forget again. Let's just say that cursing us out would be putting it mildly.

But the absolute worst thing to Barry, the thing he just could not stand, was if anyone littered or polluted the environment. If he ever saw us drop a gum wrapper or even worse, leave a soda can around he would go ballistic. Besides picking it up and handing it back to us, he used to jump into this whole lecture, or really a tirade, full of angry cursing and accusations about how we were destroying the whole planet with our carelessness, etc.

Now the reason I say 'he used to' is because of the time someone said something to him that changed Barry's whole style of talking, hopefully forever.

We were on a family trip with our cousins and we were all piled into the back couple of rows of Uncle Jack's minibus, while the adults sat in the front. We had brought plenty of snacks for the trip, and everyone was having a good time. That is, until our cousin Amy, who was sitting next to Barry, made the 'fatal mistake' of tossing her apple core out the window onto the side of the road.

Now it was a quiet country road, and you could argue that an apple core thrown into the woods wouldn't do anything worse than maybe sprout a new apple tree, but Barry wouldn't hear of it - littering was littering. My sister and I knew what was coming, and braced as Barry's face turned that familiar shade red, and he began to lace into our hapless cousin.

At first Amy seemed shocked. But then it was our turn to be shocked as she quickly regained her composure, looked Barry straight in the eye, and said, "I might have been wrong to litter, but it is nothing compared to the whole smelly garbage can you just dumped into the bus!"

"What are you talking about, Amy?" Barry asked incredulously.

"Listen to the way you're speaking. Your foul language is 'word pollution!'"

I wanted to clap, but I held myself back.

"Look Barry," she said, "it's wonderful to want to be clean and care about the environment, and you can use all the soap in the world and recycle until your face is blue, but until you learn how to clean up your speech and drop that foul language, you're sitting in the middle of a garbage truck and dragging everyone else down there with you."

The look on Barry's face showed that he had gotten the message, a message we had all wanted to give him for a long time, and just never knew how. Barry's still a neat freak, but a lot more humble and quiet about it. Even if somebody messes up in front of him once in a while, he tries real hard to tell them about it in a way that's just as clean as the way he wants his world to be.


Ages 3-5

Q. How did Barry feel when he saw someone littering?
A. He felt really angry, and that he had the right to curse him out about it.

Q. How did he feel after Amy spoke to him?
A. While it still bothered him, he realized that he had to speak with clean language if he really cared about keeping the world clean.

Ages 6-9

Q. Do you agree that foul language is a form of pollution?
A. It may not be as obvious as smog or toxic waste, but in its own way, foul language pollutes the environment of the one speaking it as well as the one listening. It is a violent and non-constructive way of expressing oneself, and a spiritual person will always find another, cleaner way to get his message across.

Q. How do you think people will react to someone who refuses to curse or use "four-letter words"?
A. They might be surprised at first, especially if he didn't always speak that way, but in the end they will come out having much more respect for him when he shows how much respect he has for himself and others by choosing to keep his speech clean.

Ages 10 and Up

Q. What is so bad about using foul language?
A. A person's power of speech is one of the deepest and most spiritual parts of himself. It is the interface between his inner and outer worlds. It might not be immediately apparent, but if he uses this awesome spiritual power in an unrefined way, he is letting something very unclean into his deepest self, and it will affect the quality of his whole life. Besides this, it is a form of assault on the people around him. If this sounds extreme, do an experiment, and for one week keep your speech free of any form of profanity, and see how sensitive you become to the effects of unclean speech.

Q. Does the way a person speaks reflect upon his character?
A. It is actually one of the best ways penetrating people's 'masks,' and finding out what is going on beneath the surface. A person's speech, gives you an x-ray into what he is really about. It is also a powerful tool of personal growth, as improving the quality of our own speech is an accessible method of improving our own character and building ourselves spiritually.