Elan Javanfard, L.M.F.T.
The Power of Words: Unleashing Blessings or Curses
By: Elan Javanfard
Parshat Balak recounts the intriguing story of the Moab King, who sought to curse Bnei Yisrael through the prophet Bilam. However, through the divine intervention of Hashem, Bilam's curses transformed into blessings. While the narrative highlights Hashem’s love and protection towards us, it also provides us a profound lesson on the psychological concept of the power of words.
In our everyday lives, we often underestimate the impact of our words. Our speech possesses the remarkable ability to shape our own reality and influence the experiences of others. Parshat Balak invites us to reflect on the profound implications of this power, reminding us of the responsibility we hold in speaking wisely.
Bilam, initially driven by Balak's request to curse the Israelites, embarked on his mission. Instead of uttering curses, he provided wonderful blessings to Bnei Yisrael. This unexpected result serves as a metaphor for the potential within each of us to harness the positive force of our words, even in situations where negativity may seem tempting or justified.
Psychologically, the power of words can shape our self-perception and influence our actions. When we speak negatively about ourselves or others, doubting abilities or belittling worth, we create a self-fulfilling prophecy that limits everyone’s potential. Conversely, when we choose wisely, speaking words of encouragement, hope, and belief, we open opportunity to endless possibilities and growth. Simply put by Pirkei Avot (1:11) ‘be careful with your words.’
Our words possess the power to shape our thoughts, emotions, and ultimately, our actions, which are hallmark components of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). The CBT Cognitive Triad stipulates a link between our thoughts about ourselves, those around us, and the world - directly indicating their far-reaching power. In our interactions with others, a word of appreciation or validation can uplift and inspire, fostering strong bonds of trust and love. On the contrary, careless words spoken in anger, criticism, or judgment can invalidate, leaving scars that may take years to heal. As put by American author Jessamyn West, "a broken bone can heal, but the wound a word opens can fester forever."
How often do we become our own or someone else’s Bilam? The Sefer HaChinukh in describing mitzvah 231, “To not curse an Israelite, whether a man or a woman” discusses how this even applies to not cursing someone who cannot hear you because we do not know the “power in the words of a person’s mouth” and the impact they have even on the speaker. The Parasha reminds us to exercise caution and thoughtfulness in our speech, for we hold the power to nurture those around us through the words we choose.
Some examples to consider on a daily basis:
- Provide yourself with a kind word or encouragement
- Express gratitude directly to a loved one
- Show compassion to a stranger to light up their day
Hashem intervened to ensure that only blessings emerged from Bilam’s mouth. This serves as a reminder that when our words align with encouragement, gratitude, and compassion, we align ourselves with the Hashem. By using positive words, we become a vessel for Hashem’s blessings to be shared in this world.
May we strive to apply these lessons from Parashat Balak - by harnessing the power of our speech, we can elevate ourselves and contribute positively to the world, bringing forth blessings instead of curses, love instead of hatred, and healing instead of harm.
Elan Javanfard, M.A., L.M.F.T. is a Consulting Psychotherapist focused on behavioral health redesign, a Professor of Psychology at Pepperdine University, & a lecturer related to Mindfulness, Evidence Based Practices, and Suicide Prevention. Elan is the author of Psycho-Spiritual Insights: Exploring Parasha & Psychology, weekly blog. He lives in Los Angeles Pico Robertson community with his wife and two children and can be reached at Elan.Javanfard@gmail.com.