By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
America may “Got Talent” but Klal Yisroel has tzorus. Recently, the Jewish media has reported that a young yarmulkah-wearing Jewish boy appeared on a show called “America’s Got Talent” and proceeded to tell a series of sickening and appalling jokes – jokes of a nature not seen since we were at the 49th level of Tumah in Mitzrayim – and even then perhaps not.
The Torah tells us (Dvarim 23:17), “Lo yireh b’cha ervas davar – There shall not be seen within you an unseemly thing..” Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmani in VaYikra Rabbah (24:7) rereads the words to say “ervas dibur” instead of “ervas davar.” The verse now reads – “There shall not be seen within you an unseemly statement – namely speech of a vile, filthy nature. The Machzor Vitri (424), one of the foremost students of Rashi, writes that the prohibition is biblical.
It has been argued as well that the judges gave their overwhelming approval to the horrifying display – not because it was particularly funny, but because the child was wearing a Yarmulkah. In other words if this performance was to have been performed by a regular kid, he would have bombed terribly. This makes the Chilul hashem even more poignant.
G-d distinguished man from animals by giving him a prefrontal cortex so that he can think. It is the intellect that separates us from the animal world – and such behavior means that we are choosing to act like base animals – avoiding the use of our brains to better the world.
And it seems that it is not just an innocuous, harmless activity. The Gemorah in Shabbos (33a) tells us that because of the sin of Nivul Peh great problems come to Israel. Harsh decrees are promulgated – the repercussions are rather serious. The Shla (Osios Shin Shtika 24) writes that Nivul Peh is the Avi Avos HaTumah – the ultimate source of impurity. One can understand this Gemorah because it sidetracks us from achieving holiness and doing good in the world.
The Neshama, or soul, reflects the divine aspects of mankind. In contrast, Nivul Peh reflects the Nefesh Habahamis – the animalistic aspect of mankind. The reason Nivul Peh is called “Avi Avos HaTumah by the Shla HaKadosh is that such activity undermines the holiness of Klal Yisroel, both of oneself and of others. In fact, the Gemorah in Kesuvos (5b) instructs the others just how they should react. The Gemorah states that fingers were created like straight tent pegs for a reason – so that someone who hears Nivul Peh can place his fingers in his ears to blot out the sound. Why blot it out? So that we can not let it deter us and make us into base human beings.
The Midrash tells us that the Jews in Egypt reached the 49th level of impurity, but even then, they did not succumb so low as to cuse Nivul peh (Psikta Zuta Shmos 6:10). They did not change their language implies, according to the Midrash, that they did not change their manner of speech either. We see how serious such activity truly is.
It also reduces our pre-designated life spans. The Gemorah in Niddah (16b) states that even if one had a life span of seventy years, nivul peh can turn it around in the wink of an eye.
Surprisingly enough, however, the TaZ (YD 124:1) states that the reason the Gemorah uses the wording “one who removes Nivul Peh from his mouth” rather than “one who issues curse Nivul Peh from his mouth” is to show us that the prohibition is only when one does so intentionally and willfully. Otherwise, it may not be the most proper thing, but it does not violate the biblical prohibition. But this was, unfortunately deliberate.
One should not blame the child, he is after all a child under Bar Mitzvah. It is a culture where Judaism has no true depth and real meaning. The very fact that a father wearing a Yarmulkah, and an observant mother could not just tolerate but encourage such profanities from her son is appalling.
Man was created in the Divine Image and possesses a Chailek Elokah mimaal – a Divine section from Above. The uttering of profane words darkens and sullies that Divine section from Above that we all possess.
The Mesilas Yesharim points out that this lesson about being careful in how we communicate our thoughts and words to others is found in the very beginning of Sefer Bereishis. Hashem instructs Noach to take both pure and impure animals to be placed in the ark. Yet when Hashem gives him these instructions , careful attention is given to make sure that the word “Tameh” is not used. Instead Hashem tells Noach to take the animal that is not pure. Apparently, just reciting the word “impure” has negative effects. Certainly this must be true for real curse words themselves. Many extra words are used by the Torah to teach us this very important lesson – not to sully our Neshamos by cursing.