We all know that there is a prohibition called לשון הרע (Lashon HaRa, whose primary biblical prooftext is Vayikra 19:16), which is the term we use for what we shouldn’t say which can do harm and bring distance between our relationships.
We also know that there is a mitzvah called וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ אֲנִי ה’ (‘Love your neighbour like yourself’ – Vayikra 19:18), which is the wide-ranging command to speak and act towards others in ways that show love, sensitivity and concern.
Unfortunately, a fact that is often forgotten is that though there are many settings where one can fulfil וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ, it is within the framework of marriage where so many varied dimensions of this mitzvah can be fulfilled. As Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, quoting the Arizal, explains in his book Simḥat Habayit Uvirkhato that through marriage, ‘love is expressed in all aspects of life, spiritual and physical alike. Thus, when a married couple lives together lovingly, each loving the other no less than they love themselves and desiring to bring joy to the other no less than they want for themselves, they fulfil the entire Torah in a concentrated form’ (Ch. 1 Section 1).
Yet just a marriage has the potential to achieve this heightened form of וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ, sometimes the very moments where one would expect a couple to be the most sensitive about what they say towards one another can be undermined by words spoken by one or both parties that can do harm and bring distance within their relationship.
It is this point which Rav seeks to make in today’s daf (Chagigah 5b) who, basing himself on the words of Amos 4:13 which states that כִּי הִנֵּה יוֹצֵר הָרִים וּבֹרֵא רוּחַ וּמַגִּיד לְאָדָם מַה שֵּׂחוֹ – ‘For behold, He forms mountains and creates winds; He reveals his words to a person’, then explains that at the end of our days God will take an account for all the “excess words” spoken between husband and wife.
Of course, this teaching should not be understood to be referring to words of kindness or affection that are spoken in a marriage which certainly should be encouraged. Instead, what I believe Rav is alluding to are moments such as those when a man and wife are considering to be physically intimate when one says something to the other which upsets or frustrates them. As such, Rabbi Melamed proceeds to explain how a couple should be particularly sensitive with the words which they say to one another before being intimate and that they should ‘not to broach subjects likely to lead to an argument, or subjects that are a source of stress for either one of them’ because, as Rav teaches us in our daf, ‘whoever raises a subject that could ruin the joy of the mitzva will have to answer for it in the future’ (ibid. Ch. 2 Section 3).
Let me end by referring back to where I began, namely the prohibition of לשון הרע – which is derived from Vayikra 19:16, and the mitzvah of וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ – which is derived from Vayikra 19:18. Because separating these two is the verse which informs us that we should not foster resentment and hatred in our heart towards others, and that while there are times when we need to reprove those we love, we should be sensitive in picking our timing to do so.
Ultimately, if we want to keep words that can do harm and bring distance far from our relationships where ‘love is expressed in all aspects of life, spiritual and physical alike’, we should be incredibly careful about the words that we say, while remembering that we will have to answer for such words in the future.