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As kids we are told, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

It’s a lie. Bones can heal. Words stay with someone. They have constant reminders which continue to cause pain and suffering. Words kill. Slowly. Painfully.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

While there are many forms of mental health and mental illness, for me, this month is a stark reminder of the illness that is depression.

This week’s Torah portion is called Emor (say). There is power in speech, both written and oral. What we say and what we write can never fully be erased. The holes that we make are never fully filled.

The Hebrew quotes above show the power of speech. Our words are powerful enough to kill. At the same time, our words are powerful enough to create the world. Finally, out of darkness comes light.

When a situation arises that angers us, depression often follows. They go hand in hand with each other. Lashon Hara (evil speech) is both a contributing factor and an end result.

A quick story from to illustrate the point.

“There once was a little boy who had a bad temper. His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, he must hammer a nail into the back of the fence.

On the first day, the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence. Over the next few weeks, as he learned to control his anger, the number of nails hammered daily gradually dwindled down. He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence.

Finally the day came when the boy didn’t lose his temper at all. He told his father about it and the father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper. The days passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone.

The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence. He said, “You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one. You can put a knife in a man and draw it out. It won’t matter how many times you say I’m sorry, the wound is still there.”

The little boy then understood how powerful his words were. He looked up at his father and said, “I hope you can forgive me father for the holes I put in you.”

“Of course, I can,” said the father.

It’s not always anger, it is your actions in general. There are no “fresh starts” in life. There is no new beginning. Forgiveness comes easy for many people but the scars of the past, they never go away. Watch what you do today, because sometimes the price isn’t worth the reward.”

We can spend the rest of our lives trying to patch those holes, trying to clean up the mess that we have made. Or we can resolve to stop hammering into the wall and stop spreading gossip, slander, and negative speech. We can resolve to think about what we say, how we act, and the impact that it has on others.

Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshischa used to carry two slips of paper, one in each of his pockets. One slip of paper contained the words “Bishvili nivra ha-olam” — “For my sake, the world was created.” On the other slip of paper, the words “V’anokhi afar v’efer” — “I am but dust and ashes.”

On Tuesday, we will celebrate Lag B’Omer. Literally, the thirty-third day of the Omer (the period between Passover and Shavuot), Lag B’Omer marks the end of a plague that wiped out Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 students, as well as the anniversary of the death of Shimon Bar Yochai, the author of the Zohar (the book of Kabbalah). On Lag B’Omer we come together to teach Rabbi Akiva’s central message: V’Ahavta L’Re’echa Kamocha, “Love your neighbor as yourself”.

Let’s start by loving ourselves. Then use our words to speak kindness to those around us. Help to build a world with the power of our words to safeguard our own mental health as well as that of those around us.