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The pen is mightier than the sword

Friday, 8 December, 2023 - 2:12 am

“The pen is mightier than the sword” is a famous saying.

In Mishlei it’s expressed differently: “Some utter words like the stabs of a sword.” The meaning is quite clear. Words have power, as the Radak (Rabbi David Kimchi) says about this passuk: “There is a person who says things that are like the stabbing of a sword.” In this context, it is a warning against writing too harshly, against stabbing people verbally, against responding too brutally. We ask ourselves and others not to say or write things that are like a stab of a sword.

But the pen and words can be used in a positive, active way – and that way, too, they are more effective than physical battle. Now, when we are still under the pall of October 7th, when the war is raging and our brothers and sisters are being held captive, it is the time to use the power of the light of Chanuka, use words, use the pen.

If a pen is stronger than a sword when it comes to hurting people, it certainly is strong when it comes to doing good.

This is the time to remember that words are very powerful, and to use them for the good.

The rest of the passuk in Mishlei says, “but the tongue of the wise is healing.” The Radak explains it thus: “The tongue of the wise – in other words, their words are so good, that they have a healing effect on the body. How simple. A wise person knows that words can heal. The same way they can be like sword stabs, they can also heal body and soul.”

We are programmed to be practical – to do deeds, to act, and that is amazing and special. But at the same time and concomitantly one can say healing words. 

On Shabbat Parashat Emor 5742 (1982), the theme of the Rebbe’s hitva’adut was one word: “Emor” (Say).

Emor” is in the imperative. You are commanded to say and say all the time. (In Yiddish: Halten in ein sagen). 

What to say? Say favorable things of your fellow. The Tanna, Yehoshua ben Perachia,says in Masechet Avot: “Judge every person favorably.” The Lubavitcher Rebbe says: It is not enough to judge your fellow favorably in your mind; do it in speech.

Don’t just think about it – say it as well! Emor!

And one more thing: When you speak, speak gently and pleasantly. It doesn’t say dabber; rather it says emor. Dibbur is hard; amira is soft. 

It would seem to be just a matter of words, words, words. But really it demands that a person devote some thought to it and be proactive: find and say words of encouragement and empowerment, of hope, emuna (faith) and bitachon (trust). Don’t ask me how I know, but it helps not only in a situation of a general war, but also when we are confronted with any challenge. 

We can say, with full intent, “We have come to banish the darkness” (a popular Hebrew Chanuka song), and we can also banish the darkness that has filled our hearts since October 7th with good words. The Radak brings another beautiful commentary on this passuk in Mishlei: “Another commentary: Someone can say to his friend words that are as hard as arrows, and a wise person will turn those words around cleverly until the bad feeling in the heart of the person who has heard those hard words leaves him.”

We have the power – only if we are wise, of course – to change a bad feeling and bad heart to a good feeling – by way of healing words.


Have a happy and illuminating holiday,

Shabbat Shalom,

Am Yisrael chai,

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski

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