Rav Avigdor Miller on Dirty Language

Is it permitted to use vulgar expressions or unseemly language in order to bring out a point?

It depends. We try to avoid a לשון שאינה נקיה, language that is not clean. We aim for לשון של כבוד, a respectful way of speaking. ודעת שפתי ברור מיללו. “And the knowledge of my lips speaks fine words” (Iyov 33:3). We try to speak as politely and as nicely as we can.

However, when there is a fire and someone is asleep, and you are trying to wake him gently but he doesn’t respond, then you are permitted to pour a bucket of cold water on his head. And when people are asleep, and the point is not hitting home, sometimes you can use your discretion to use a stronger expression to wake them up.

And that’s why in the Gemara we find a Rebbi says to a younger chaver, “Tarda!” and Rashi explains the word to mean a שוטה משועמם. It means a tumeldik’eh confused fool. How can you say that to someone?!

And the answer is this: Suppose that somebody is invited to your home for Shabbos. And he has a piece of chicken on his plate which he is finding impossible to negotiate with his fork and knife. So, he lifts up his foot and he puts it on his plate and he holds down the chicken on the plate with one foot. And with his hands he’s tearing it away. Imagine an extreme case like this. It’ll never happen that way, but things can happen that approximate it. People can misbehave at a table in ways not too far from that. So Rabbi Akiva once saw a talmid, a student of his, who was misbehaving at the table, so Rabbi Akiva said, “Why don’t you put your foot on it and hold it down?” Now, when somebody misbehaves himself terribly at the table, so you feel justified in bringing the point home to him. You have to speak strong words because you see that the man doesn’t realize how wrong he is.

Among the chachomim, the Sages, the worst misbehavior was laziness of the שכל, of the mind. Now we don’t realize that. In the tents of the Torah sages laziness of the mind was considered the worst form of misbehavior. Not thinking! And therefore when a talmid asked a foolish קשיא, a foolish question, then it was worse than putting a foot on the plate. It was a silly קשיא, so the Rebbi couldn’t just say, “No, that’s not right.” That wouldn’t be enough for such a great sin of negligence of the mind. So he brought him back to presence of mind by saying, “Tarda! You confused fool!” Now, we would never say that. And that’s because we don’t appreciate the sin of laziness of thought. But to them, that was the biggest of all sins. Laziness of thought is the worst of all sins. שגגת תלמוד עולה זדון. Laziness is a זדון, it’s a willful sin. And therefore they rebuked them. That’s why we find in the Gemara this strong language by these sins, the sins of error in thinking. When a person failed in using his mind, that’s when they used the strongest language. Otherwise they didn’t.

So in general, we always strive for לשון נקיה and expressions of כבוד. But there are extreme circumstances that require one to lower the standards of his language in order to drive a point home.
TAPE # 48