My little man was watching a show the other day, and parts of the theme song caught my ear: “Welcome to the place where words come alive . . . . Nothing’s better than a letter, they hold our world together . . . .” The show was Word World, which PBS describes in this way:
Come along for an adventurous romp into a colorful, vibrant world of words with the lovable, legible WordFriends–animals whose bodies are made up of the letters that spell the word they are.
* * * * *
The WordFriends go on comic adventures and face challenges that can only be resolved with the right word. That word is built letter by letter, sound by sound . . . . Once the word is built, it “morphs”–comes alive–into the thing it is!
Word building reinforces the pre-reading concept that letters (and their sounds) make words, and that words have real meaning…and power.
Words having the power to create …
Now there is a great life lesson AND a great Jewish lesson!!
The “magical” phrase “Abracadabra” comes from Hebrew words that mean, essentially, “I create as I speak.” And although Judaism long ago rejected the use of “magic phrases,” the idea that words could be used to create or change our world, in fact, comes from Torah. In the third verse of Genesis, we read that the creation of our world began in this way:
“ג ויאמר אלהים יהי-אור ויהי-אור:”
“3 And G-d said, Let there be light; and there was light.”
And then in successive stages, creation continues with this general formula:
“And God said, … and it was so.”
״ויאמר אלהים . . . ויהי-כן:״
Based on this formula for the unfolding of creation, Sefer Yetzirah, “the Book of Creation,” a mystical Jewish text written between the 3rd and 6th century of the modern era asserts:
Twenty-two elemental letters. G-d engraved them, carved them, weighed them, permuted them, and transposed them, forming with them everything formed and everything destined to be formed.
Matt, Daniel. The Essential Kabbalah, p. 102 (HarperOne 1994).
Thus, the basis of the Jewish concept of creation is that — just as in Word World — things did not exist until their names had been formed with letters, so they could be spoken aloud. The words and the things are inseparable — which is why, I believe, the Hebrew word “d’varim” can mean either “words” or “things”.
And is this not also true for us today? The words that we hear from others, and the words that we speak to ourselves and to others — do they not have the ability to dramatically alter the world in which we live?? Words can break a heart or mend a broken heart; they can bring comfort or pain, create war or peace, increase joy or despair. Our reality . . . for better or for worse . . . is created and shaped by the words that surround us — those we say, those we hear, and those we choose to believe are true (whether or not they are).
The theme song for Word World says: “It’s a beautiful world” . . . and our world can be beautiful as well, if we choose to use, hear, and believe only those words that help make it so.