The Power of Words…with Nachi Gordon and Yaakov Langer


Do the words we choose to speak really matter? Why is it often difficult to say thank you or to admit that we need help? Is “recipitive” a real word?! This week, Noam sits down with Nachi Gordon and Yaakov Langer to discuss gratitude, building relationships through communication, and game-changing words.


About: Nachi Gordon and Yaakov Langer are the cohosts of the podcast “Meaningful People.” Deep, unboundedly interesting, fun and uplifting, the podcast is a weekly opportunity for Nachi & Yaakov to talk to the Jewish world’s meaningful people.

Subscribe to this podcast

Episode Transcript


From Unpacked, I’m Noam Weissman, and you are listening to The Power Of…this week, The Power Of Empathy. The Power Of is brought to you thanks to our generous Platinum level supporters, The Mayberg Foundation, and David and Debra Magerman, as well as our additional gold level supporters, Sheryl & Gerald Hartman, and bronze level supporters, the Crain-Maling Foundation. To sponsor future episodes, for your foundation, your company, or just because you care about Jewish education, email us at podcasts@jewishunpacked.

I want to tell you an amazing, amazing story that I heard from Rabbi Efrem Goldberg, a rabbi in Boca Raton, Florida. Now, it’s apocryphal, it didn’t exactly happen like this, but the story goes like this:

One day a young Thomas Edison came home and handed his mom a piece of paper. He told her, “My teacher gave this to me and told me to only give it to my mother.”

His mother’s eyes were tearful as she read the letter out loud to her child: “Your son is a genius. This school is too small for him and doesn’t have enough good teachers for training him. Please teach him yourself.”

Many years later, after Edison’s mother had died, he was looking through old family heirlooms. Now one of the greatest inventors of the century, he suddenly saw a folded piece of paper in the corner of a desk drawer. He took it and opened it up. On the paper was written: “Your son is addled [mentally ill]. We won’t let him come to school any more.”

Edison cried for hours and then he wrote in his diary: “Thomas Alva Edison was an addled child that, by a hero mother, became the genius of the century.”

Profound story, right? It gives me goosebumps just repeating it. There’s so much here – the power of a mother’s love, what true faith looks like, and we could go on. But I want to focus on a counter-historical for a second. What if this had gone differently? Let’s suppose Mrs. Edison opened the paper, read it to young Thomas exactly as it was written, and then merely said to him, “You know, your teacher is right. You gotta shape up.” 

Imagine how damaging that response would be to him. Would we have the 1,093 patents of Thomas Edison if his mother reacted like that? 

We create worlds with words and we destroy worlds with words. The author of Mishlei, also known as the book of Proverbs, got it right, when he said, Mavet v’chayim b’yad Halashon, “Death and life are in the hands of the tongue.” 

We might choose not to think about this point each and every day, but if we pause for a few moments to think about the power of words, the power of speech, the power of what we choose to say and choose not to say, we will recognize the power of words.

There are no two ways about it. Judaism, as I see it, is obsessed with words. From the Talmudic idea that hirhur lav kidibbur dami, that thought is not the same as speech, to the power of teshuva, of forgiveness – which must, must, be accompanied by a sincere apology, coupled with a commitment to change. And of course, the deceptively simple morning routine we can all apply regardless of our religious background, which is to start the day with the words Modeh Ani, “I thank you.” 

What we choose to say matters.

To think this through, I knew exactly who I had to speak to. Nachi and Yaakov are the cohosts of a podcast called Meaningful People, and, well, it’s exactly what it sounds like. Every week, they have a really beautiful conversation with people you may know, you may not know, but who are fascinating and inspiring people, with stories that positively inspire the world.

Nachi and Yaakov wanted to showcase meaningful people, and they chose a podcast. They choose language, and conversation, and communication, and words – and I wanted to talk to them about all of that, and talk about it in a way where we could explore our own goals, our own doubts, and of course, explore what Judaism has to say about all of this.

Our talk was wide-ranging. In this episode, you’ll hear us discussing Eleanor Roosevelt’s famous insight connecting the ideas we choose to speak about with the type of person we are. You’ll hear us struggle about the constant temptation to speak ill of people (even people we like!). For many of us, the water cooler or the dugout, and now the whatsapp group, the slack thread, the instagram/twitter conversations, are such a challenge.

When we think of the power of words, we might think of the oratory quips of Golda Meir, (ok that might be my hat from another podcast I work on – Unpacking Israeli History), or we might think of Obama’s rhetorical flourishes, or the legends of Churchill, or the hilarity of Yogi Berra. And I don’t want to tell you too much about the conversation, it’ll speak for itself, but I keep thinking about this moment in the episode, where Yaakov admitted that he don’t speak with such polish, or have an Oxford-level vocabulary (he tends to make up works actually), but the way Nachi and Yaakov communicate brings people in. Makes people feel good. Nachi and Yaakov have used their words to inspire hundreds of thousands if not millions of people.

So, take a listen to this conversation, and hopefully we can all walk away exploring the power of words. Yalla, let’s do this.


Noam: Nachi and Yaakov, it is so awesome to have you on The Power Of.

Yaakov: Real pleasure.

Nachi: Thank you so much for having us.

Noam: Love your podcast, been listening to it a bunch recently, it’s called Meaningful People. Could you just tell us what problem were you trying to solve in creating this podcast called Meaningful People?

Yaakov: I don’t know if it really, we had in mind to solve an issue here. We just started off with talking to people, a lot of rabbis. And then it just turned into, hey, there’s many types of meaningful people. But I don’t think we were really trying to solve a problem necessarily, but I do think it opened up a world of, at least with a lot of Jews, to hear other people’s stories and relate to them.

Nachi: Yaakov said it perfectly. I think that we grew up in a world where, when you found out about people, I mean, you read about them after they passed away. So I wouldn’t really call it a problem that we wanted to solve. But so something that we wanted to do is feature people and have people learn about them while they’re still alive, instead of when they pass away.

Noam: That’s a powerful idea. I’ll tell you when I listen to your podcast, there was a part of me that felt a little bit uncomfortable because you are so positive. Everything is positive, everything is good. And I don’t know, maybe I’m a little cynicism. When you’re making your podcast, are you thinking, hey, let’s create this positivity in this world where there’s constantly cynicism, criticism, negativity. Is that part of your thinking in the product itself?

Yaakov: We definitely try to have conversations that are going to be spun as people coming out, I guess, inspired or feeling happy. Obviously there’s sometimes more heavy conversations like we had with Avremi Gourarie, his daughter tragically committed suicide. So it was a very heavy conversation, but the energy, I think, that Nachi and I try to always bring is positive energy. Sometimes the conversations might be heavy, but I don’t know if that’s a words thing. I think it’s like a energy vibe in the air that we try to bring.

Noam: Yeah. It’s an experiential thing. It’s the vibe that I get. What I want to talk about is the power of words. When I think about words, this is what I think about, whatever I’ve done wrong in my life. Any terrible thing I’ve done, any bad thing I’ve done, the reality is, and maybe this is true for you as well. The reality is it’s with my mouth. It’s something that I’ve said that isn’t good. And it’s a crazy concept. We have hands, we have feet, we could do lots of different things, we can be… That’s not where I’ve made mistakes in my life. Where I’ve made mistakes is simply with my mouth. So on the one hand, there’s this… not negative, but there’s a danger to how we use our words. We have to be very careful.

And on the other hand, there’s this concept and it’s a beautiful concept is, baruch she’amar v’haya haolam, that the world has also been created and constructed with words. It’s both. So this might be personal, but that’s what we’re going to be doing in this podcast. Could you walk us through, if you feel comfortable, what would be an example from your lives where perhaps you used words in a way that you’re not proudest?

Nachi: It’s an interesting question because you think about it, What’s the thing we do most in life is probably speak. What’s the balance of words that build and words that destroy it’s… I don’t know, but I think on one of our episodes, in fact, I made a joke about Teaneck or something, and people were actually upset. To me, I was kidding. But then you realize, wait a minute, a lot of people could take words different ways. There’s a lot of different interpretations of things. You have to be really, really careful.

Yaakov: I think more often it’s not the words that I’ve said in my life that cause more harm, it’s usually the words that I didn’t say. I think at the end of the day, Conversation is just the ability to, I guess, communicate and give over. There definitely have been instances where in my life, whether… Even Nachi and myself, there have been… Even making this podcast, there’s differences of opinion. And I definitely regret the times where I personally didn’t communicate, hey, this is the idea that I want to go do or go down this path and stuff like that. So I think at least for myself, I like to talk, I enjoy conversation. It’s usually I think the most harm when I don’t share what I’m feeling or share enough.

Noam: Yeah. I feel often that an awkward conversation not had is worse than the awkward conversation had. So what you’re saying, sometimes it’s difficult because you want to say something and that silence is actually a problem when you could communicate something. There’s something you want to say, but I’ll tell you there are times for me where I know that the way I communicated was just off. I’ll give you guys a few just specific examples. Example number one, that I have when I think about my own life is I have kids. You have kids?

Yaakov: Yeah.

Nachi: Yeah.

Noam: I have an eight year old son and I have been in education for a long time. I was the principal of high school. I helped lead a Jewish education media company. I have a doctorate in educational psychology. I ought to know how to use my words well to teach my son in a moment of a difficult math problem. And he’s going through this math problem. And it was something like estimation, rounding to the ten round to the a hundred. I’m doing this homework with him and I’m getting impatient. And I say, why can’t you figure this out? When I said, Eyal, why can’t you figure this out? I saw him shut down at that moment. And I intellectually, I looked down like, my God, oh my God. And then I did something. So I was bad. It was bad. He cried.

That night I went over to him and I said Abba made a mistake. I said, I’m sorry. I just had the two words. I’m sorry. I messed up. I’m sorry. And for me, that moment of using words, not well during the day, and then using the words at night, I’m sorry, was a game changer.

Have you ever used the words I’m sorry and seen the impact it has on someone else? And have either of you ever had someone say, I’m sorry to you and how has that impacted you?

Nachi: Yeah. For sure. I apologize a lot. And I think that most of the time when I apologize, when I say the words, I’m sorry, it will rectify a situation. It’ll break down any barrier that exists or any issues that were caused by whatever was done. I think saying the words, I’m sorry, what they do is it represents the viewpoint of what I did wasn’t malicious and it wasn’t… I didn’t intend to do what was said or done. So I definitely have seen the effect that those words have. And on the flip side, as well, hearing the words, I’m sorry, in a genuine way, certainly it makes a difference. It just brings two people who are on the opposite sides of a spectrum in a moment and lets you come to the middle and I guess unite.

Yaakov: I don’t have anything to add to that, talking about power of words. I think Nachi said it really well.

Noam: Yaakov, I guess what I would add to that then is how we say I’m sorry, matters as well. So for me, here’s an example of apology that doesn’t resonate. And here’s an example of apology that does resonate. An example of apology that does resonate is when I say, I’m sorry if that hurt you. I’m sorry if what happened offended you. I’m sorry if… For me, it’s almost like I’d rather… You know what? For the same try hold the apology, hold it.

Nachi: Or like, I’m sorry that you feel.

Noam: I’m sorry that you feel.

Nachi: That’s the worst.

Noam: Exactly. Doesn’t it sting even thinking about it? It’s just like, no, that’s… I’m not looking for that. That’s not your Brene Brown version of empathy. That doesn’t work for me. That doesn’t land. But what does land is two things for me, at least, when someone says, I’m sorry that I did this, I’m sorry for my behavior. I’m sorry and I own it. I own it. And here’s behavioral things that I want to do differently as a result of this. When you see that, I actually think it changes the world. It changes the dynamic of the whole conversation and the whole relationship.

Yaakov: I’m not a rabbi at all, but I think that, that very idea is what it meant when it said God created the world with words. It obviously… I don’t understand the metaphysical repercussions of that, but that idea of putting in your intention, your desire, your com… whatever you’re trying to communicate over, the words are just carrying it over. But that, whether it’s love or hate whatever you’re using your words for, that transfers into something that’s real, like a real reality. And I think that’s how this world is created. And I think that’s how we build relationships and everything we have is with our communication and our relationships with others. So the words are really like the vehicle to give whatever power over we’re trying to give.

Nachi: I think it’s also interesting because the words, I’m sorry, aren’t… they’re not only there where you can use them to bandaid a situation, or walk back the bad thing that was done. I think apologize and saying, you’re sorry, could make a situation better than it was even before the bad thing was done. Just apologizing for something doesn’t just… Okay, now we’re back to A. It could get you in a better place than you even were. So the misdeed and that I think it’s worth noting.

Noam: Absolutely. And there’s a flip side. I’m sorry. Two other words, it’s thank you. So thank you is… Have you heard of Patrick Lencioni? I never pronounce his name correctly. Some people say Lencioni, some people say Lencioni. It’s L-E-N-C-I-O-N-I.

Yaakov: It sounds like a delicious pasta, but clearly I have not heard of them.

Nachi: It sounds like one of those freezer pizzas like those Italian freezer pizza company.

Yaakov: He’s for sure world famous and like Nachi and I are like. We don’t know who he is. I’m sure-

Noam: You guys are amazing.

Yaakov: – people are cringing as we-

Noam: No, no.

Yaakov: – have no clue who he is.

Noam: Listen, it’s okay. There’s no shame here. But he’s one of these business gurus, how to have good meetings, how to have a healthy, trustworthy team. And he says that there are a few words that just change the game for a team. Number one, thank you. If there’s a culture in your organization where you say, thank you, it’s a game changer. If there’s a culture in your organization where you say, I’m sorry, game changer. I used to have this in my office. I would have these phrases just right there in my office to remind myself. Number three, when someone says I need help. It’s a remarkable thing when someone is willing to say to somebody else, I cannot accomplish this on my own. And then he also points out when you say to somebody you’re better than me at this. Just hearing those words, it creates this healthy culture.

But I want to focus on thank you, because in Judaism I think that there’s something remarkable about the concept of gratitude from three different angles that I’ll focus on. Number one, the very first word we say, the very first prayer we say is the prayer of Modeh Ani, that we I’m thanking you God. But before I check my phone and I am one of these obsessive phone checkers, I acknowledge it. I’m obsessive with this thing. Before I do this, I’ve trained myself to say the prayer modeh ani l’fanecha. Thank you Hashem. I thank you. The interesting thing about that is the first word is Modeh, not on Ani. Not I, but Modeh Ani. Thank you I. Jonathan Stack says this idea that is like earth shattering to me. He quotes a rishon, earlier medieval commentator, and he points out the idea that there’s… You know when we do the repetition of the Shemoneh Esrei, and there’s only one part of that, only one section there that the congregation is not able to be on the sideline.

There’s only one part that is Modim. Everyone’s got to participate. You can’t have anyone else say, thank you for you. It’s a remarkable idea. So that’s what we do in Judaism. We start off the day by saying Modeh Ani, we stand up. We can’t have anyone else say, thank you for us. And hopefully we live a culture of gratitude. The Jew, Jewish person comes from the show Yehuda to the person Yehuda to be grateful that Leah names her child. For you guys, how do you see gratitude in your lives? And how do you express extra gratitude? Is that one of your love languages? Does it really matter to you to hear the words, thank you? And is that something for you that you try to say in your lives?

Yaakov: Noam. First of all, thank you. That’s a great question. I just wanted to throw a ‘thank you’ there. Growing up, one of the things my father, he cares a lot about is for us saying thank you after a meal or getting something from someone. And I’m definitely not as good as I should be with it, but it’s interesting that I think the thank you concept is really just saying… the other points that you made, that I can’t really navigate this world by myself. And no one really could, we really need each other. And thank you is expressing that, hey, it’s like that reminder that you helped me. And I appreciate that. And I wouldn’t be at this stage of my life, whether it was smaller, big without you. So thank you.

Noam: Wait, Nachi before you jump in, I want to say something else about that. You just got my brain going there. I think sometimes it’s hard for me to say thank you. I think that it’s sometimes me saying thank you, gives something to somebody else. I can’t describe it exactly what it is, but do you know what I’m saying? It’s like, all right, I’m going to say… I’m giving something of myself to you by saying thank you. I can’t describe exactly what I mean by that. But do you always say thank you when you feel gratitude or do you sometimes hold it in?

Yaakov: I definitely hold it in sometimes. I think the more conscious I am of it. I think after this conversation, I’m going to be a lot more alerted, but I know exactly what you mean. I think that’s human nature to… It’s part of our ego. Giving over to someone else that idea of, hey, thank you because I am here because of you. The natural tendencies goes to, no, I’m good. I don’t need someone else. I think naturally. So giving that over is definitely giving a part of yourself, but I think the average Jewish person or just person in general that you meet, I think if they have a good solid upbringing, they understand the value of that. Because at the end of the day, everyone feels good when they’re thanked. So it’s recipetive.

Nachi: Yes. Is that a word?

Yaakov: I don’t know.

Noam: By the way, I do not think it is a word, but in an episode on the power of words, we will find out. Someone will comment whether or not recipetive, which I’m going to guess it’s not a word, is a word or not a word.

Yaakov: I need to point this out. I think it’s so ironic that you’re asking, I’ll put Nachi in this thing also, but more myself you’re asking Nachi myself to the power of words. We clearly are not the most polished people when it comes to the English language. Literally I’m called out all day, okay, sorry, Nachi calls me out. Every episode he’s like, that’s not a word here and there. I have proven myself to be correct, but I don’t know… I don’t think I use words properly all the time, but my point is that a lot of times people still understand what I’m trying to say, even though I’m not using the right word, the power of words.

Nachi: Yeah. Yaakov makes up a new word every episode. It’s quite amazing that he has that creativity to just make up a word. And he’s usually close. It’s usually like recipient, maybe he was going for, recipetive, but it’s definitely close. I don’t know if this is accurate. I think it was Rabbi Eitiel Goldwicht I heard say this, that another meaning of the word Modeh is to admit. And talking about why it’s so hard to say, thank you is how hard is it to admit something to somebody. It’s extremely hard. It’s difficult. Like Yaakov said, you’re giving of yourself. You have to tap into that reservoir inside of yourself to access it. So I think that makes sense, admitting anything is difficult. And even admitting to someone that I need you and I needed you for this.

Noam: Incredible meaning thank you lends itself to saying that I am not worshiping myself. I need somebody else. I admit that I cannot do this all on my own.

Nachi: It all depends how someone says it, but if you’re walking through a door that someone held open to you and you just say, thanks, okay. But if you think-

Noam: That’s not what we’re talking about.

Nachi: Thank you. I was holding… Imagine you’re holding a tray of coffee and you couldn’t open that door yourself. And you’re like, thank you.

Noam: To me, it’s like this Nachi. I think that… I’m not talking about holding a door or coffee. Let’s say you helped someone get a job. You helped someone get a job. I hope… Maybe all of us have done this to a different degree, or people have done this for us. I don’t want to admit that I didn’t get this on my own. There’s this concept from the Torah, kochi v’otzem yadi asa li et hachayil hazeh, that it’s my strength and my mind. And because of me that I’ve arrived here and God says, don’t you dare go that route. You have not arrived to where you’ve arrived simply because of you. You have to have this concept called gratitude. I think Rav Saadiah Gaon, says this idea. I think it’s Rav Saadiah Gaon, anyone can fact check me on this and tell me I’m wrong, which I’m totally good with. Which is that the fundamental value of the Torah is to teach us a way to live of gratitude.

Just thank you. Living that the Torah could be boiled down. Birkat Hamazon. When we say the blessing after a meal, the idea that you pray, you say, thank you. You go through everything that I’m grateful for after a meal, that is – takes time. It takes time for sure, but it’s a really powerful idea that my whole… This whole physical experience I just went through, I’m pausing and saying, it’s not all for me and there’s something above. I admit that there’s something above and I’m grateful for that.

Yaakov: And I think that plays beautifully into the concept of… Again, I’m getting a little meta, but I guess it’s a big company these days-

Nachi: Yaakov hasn’t stopped using the word meta since the Zuckerberg speech.

Yaakov: I used it before Facebook-

Nachi: And it’s starting to be an issue.

Yaakov: But this is a bit meta, but the whole concept of God creating… God didn’t need to create a world. He doesn’t need us, that’s for sure. But he’s a giver. And he gives us what we have. We also know this, we’re trying to be godly. We’re trying to be like God. What’s the best way to be like God is to help others, to give others, to thank others. That’s the most godly thing we could do. I want to say a practical tip that I heard from a rabbi of mine that changed my life. I heard it from Rabbi Chaim Dov Stark. And he told us this idea when we were in Israel, where we would eat by people’s homes a lot.

And he said, obviously you’re going to thank them right after the meal. That’s classic, we all do that. He said on Tuesday, let’s say you eat by them on shabbat, on Tuesday, give them a call to thank them specifically for the meal. He’s like, they’ll be blown away. And I tried doing it a few times and every person was like, what’s wrong with you? But they were so happy. They’re like, that’s really sweet of you, because okay, the classic you hold open the door, you eat by someone. Thank you. Thank you. But when you go out of your way to say, thank you when they least expect that, it’s really powerful because it shows like, hey, I really care about it. I take out my time and I really mean it. And they say, wow, that was really worth it. Then they invite you back for many more meals. So it’s a win-win.

Noam: Yaakov, what you’re describing is a brilliant idea. I love that practical concept. The way you described it, and I want to build on it was that it’s a tactical thing to make someone else feel good. I also think that it’s a really important personality development thing, where you could actually hold onto that gratitude for a few days. It’s not just right after, thank you. It’s… I actually still appreciate this three days down the road, four days down the road. And you hearing that appreciate that, and I refined myself. I want to switch to a little bit of a different topic with the power of words. Lashon hara, I want to talk about Lashon hara, evil speech.

Yaakov: Who we gossiping about?

Noam: So Eleanor Roosevelt, it’s not who are gossiping about, but Eleanor Roosevelt-

Nachi: I was like, let’s go.

Noam: Nachi’s like, game on.

Yaakov: Got a lot on Eleanor.

Noam: Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people. And if we just pause and reflect on that. Shabbat meals or maybe at the faculty room in a school or slack or WhatsApp groups, whatever it’s. We have a concept in Judaism called Lashon hara. And in this concept there’s different levels, there’s something called Lashon hara, there’s something called motzi shem rah, which is giving someone a bad reputation. Rekhilut, which is gossip, maybe I got that definition wrong. But those are the three general categories of speaking ill about somebody. The Talmud says that the majority of people succumb to sin with regard to robbery and the minority of people succumb to sin with regard to sexual matters and everyone succumbs to sin with regard to malicious speech, I.e Lashon hara. And then there’s another idea in Pirkei Avot that says, Shimon, the son of rabbi Gamliel used to say, kol yamai gadalti ben chachamim, all my days I grew up among Sages, v’lo matzati laguf tov ela shtikah, what I found, what was good, was silence.

And anyone who indulges too much in words brings upon sin. These are intense ideas. What I want to talk about with you is what do we do about this concept that on the one hand, Judaism teaches us, this is bad. Lashon hara, don’t do it. Don’t do it. But we all know that everyone’s going to do it. And on the other hand, we have Eleanor Roosevelt giving us a really pithy line, a smart line of great minds discuss ideas, small. minds I discuss people. So teach ideas, talk about ideas. What’s holding us back from doing that. It’s juicy. It’s delicious. People do it. It’s like there’s something that feels good about that moment. But how do we hold back from that?

Nachi: I’m sure there’s a lot of practical tips. Maybe Yaakov knows some. I think the question you’re asking if there was a simple answer, then maybe we wouldn’t all be here still. And I think that this is not speaking Lashon hara is probably one of the hardest things to abstain from, because words are such a crucial part of our day and conversations with people are such an important part of our day. And people are such an important part of our lives and conflicts exist and opinions exist.

If you think about it, like that’s the ultimate trap, like, okay, you’re in a room with 10 people, you have to pray in the morning or you’re going to pray three times a day. So that before you daven and after you daven like, that’s literally, even when you’re going to daven. You’re doing something holy in shul, how many times are you caught before or after speaking about, you hear what that guy said? Or you saw that the rabbi said this or this guy did that? You’d think like in a shul you’re going to speak Lashon hara. But like that happens so often.

Noam: The answer is yes. And the way you just juxtaposed and we can have a whole separate discussion and I’m going to hold myself back. I know that for you Yaakov, I’m going to stay with you for a second here, you have this thing called Yid With a Sign, right?

Yaakov: I do. I have to always point out I do it together with @aimhumor. He’s hilarious. So I am definitely the face of it. I mean, clearly I’m the one with the bigger muscles from the two. That’s sarcastic, I have tiny muscles.

Noam: I’ll tell you what my favorite one of those because it relates to what you were just talking. My favorite one is you have a sign that says bli neder, which means without a promise means you won’t do it.

Yaakov: Yes.

Nachi: Yaakov’s nightmare is having to explain his signs.

Yaakov: Yeah. No, no, I enjoy it.

Noam: But that’s a great articulation of what you were just talking about with words.

Yaakov: Yeah. I think I rephrase that. I think I originally heard Rav Gav, he’s an awesome speaker in Israel. And I think he said a concept like that. I didn’t make up the concept, but bli neder means I’m not making a vow out of this. So when you want to say like, oh, I’ll help you with that. Then you say bli neder, I’m not making a vow of this. Which could also mean, by the way, I’m not holding myself accountable at all. So whatever I’m about to say is not true. There’s a truth to that when we say something like, do we really mean it, I’ll help you with that, or whatever is sharing, like do we really mean it.

Noam: What you’re talking about, Yaakov, is this concept of authenticity and integrity. Adam Grant’s incredible thought leader at the University of Pennsylvania. He just wrote a new book called… I think it’s either called think again or rethink. And he tweets all the time. He has this tweet that I’m going to read to you. He says, integrity is walking the talk, your actions live up to your words. Authenticity is only talking what you already walk, your words, reflect your actions. It’s good to practice what you preach. It’s better to reserve your preaching for the principles you consistently practice

Yaakov: That’s beautiful.

Noam: That’s just that.

Yaakov: No, I have heard that concept before, and I think this concept… It definitely comes before him. I love how he articulated it, but I think that’s what emunah and bitachon is. Meaning faith and faith in God and trust in God. Heard this great analogy that faith in God is seeing by circus, someone hold… walk on a tight rope and they hold a barrel, that’s faith in God. Do I think that person’s going to make it by? Yeah. I think they’ll make it by. That’s faith in something.

Trust is saying, okay. That person could do it. And I’m going to be sitting in that barrel. Where our actions are maybe even more powerful than our words. Just raising children, they always say, you could say to your child a million things, don’t walk on the carpet with your shoes. But if you’re going to walk on the carpet yourself with your shoes, your kids are going to be like, come on. You don’t practice what you preach.

Noam: Do as I say, not as I do, that whole idea. Doesn’t work apparently. Yes. I’m learning that very quickly.

Nachi, could you talk to us about Meaningful Minute, and I find it insanely positive and maybe that’s been the focus of mine a little bit when I think about the power of words. Can you talk about that? What are you trying to accomplish here?

Nachi: I think from the inception, I think the goal was to, I guess, make the most use out of the time that we have. Realizing that not a lot of people have the time, unfortunately or the bandwidth to sit down and listen to a class or a shiur for an hour, hour plus. Maybe they only have 60 seconds in their day where they can have some goodness or positivity come through that. So going ahead and offering a sound bite or sound bites that are 60 seconds that can offer that to them, is something that maybe they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.

Noam: I love the concept. I’m going to ask you guys a bunch of questions. This is going to be like a rapid fire thing. When was the last time you apologized? You don’t have to go into it just quickly. When was the last time you apologized?

Yaakov: I apologized to Nachi at the beginning of this week. We were uploading a show and he’s like, it’s there. I’m like, it’s not there. And he’s like, it is there. And I checked. I’m like, it is there, my bad. I’m sorry. Nachi, do you remember this?

Nachi: I do. I apologized probably last night, probably. I apologize a lot.

Noam: Nachi, I’m going to you first here, do you have any daily ritual that you use to help you live your best life to incorporate the values that we spoke about today?

Nachi: Any daily rituals?

Noam: Yes.

Nachi: It’s funny. It’s so not a rapid fire question, but I’ll try. It’s like…tefillah? Besides for davening? I think that’s the only daily ritual I do have. But really I use the time of Shemoneh Esrai as a meditation to use that silence. I think there’s nothing that can show you and give you the greatest lesson of power of words than silence. Just being silent.

Noam: Love that. So hard, but I love it.

Yaakov: So something that I want to start doing, I learned this from… I forgot his name. He’s a very successful person on MTV. And he was basically saying he has so many projects going on in his life that he just finds it hard to keep his wife up to date. He has literally like 10, 15 companies. And he owns a bunch of real estate and he’s producing so many shows and he’s a skater and what he does every morning, he sends his wife a like a love note of saying why he appreciates her. And together with that, he’s like, by the way, I’m working on number one, number two, number three. And then I love you so much. It’s something I didn’t start yet. But I told my wife, I say, I because she always like hears about like things that I’m doing.

And I think everyone’s just so busy. We live in the busiest times of our lives. So I’m always like, I forgot to tell you about that. So I want to start doing that every morning to tell my wife, I love you for the X, Y, and Z. And by the way, this is what I’m up to today. This interview itself, I don’t… She doesn’t even know about, because it just happened. She’ll see it put out and she’s like, what the heck? When did you do that? And I’ll be like, when you took our son to the doctor.

Nachi: Rosie also had a doctor’s appointment this morning.

Yaakov: No way.

Nachi: Did Alex get a shot? Alex is my son. And Rosie’s Nachi’s.

Yaakov: No, Alexander went to ENT. By the way, I hope you guys don’t cut this part out. This is the juice. This is the real juice over here.

Nachi: No, it’s very important. It’s very important.

Yaakov: Is it a shidduch one day, Alexander and Rosie? I don’t know, maybe.

Noam: To be determined. We shall see. Nachi and Yaakov, any questions you have for me?

Yaakov: I have like a million questions for you.

Nachi: There’s a lot of books in the background, have you read every single book that’s in the background, every single book?

Noam: The answer is I’ve gone through every single book that’s here because I’ll tell you why. This is my work office. I make a lot of content like in Jewish history, Israel, Jewish philosophy, all of these areas. So these are like my go to books. It’s covering the spectrum. You have the Lubavitcher rebbe, Rabbi Lamm, you know, you have Eliezer Berkovits, Yeshayahu Leibowitz, you have Anita Shapira, just incredible-

Yaakov: Any Eleanor Roosevelt content in there?

Noam: No, that’s only Nachi’s house. Nachi keeps Eleanor Roosevelt stuff.

Yaakov: I have a question for you. What’s the most impactful word someone ever said to you?

Noam: The most impactful words, it’s I’m sorry. It’s as simple as that.

Yaakov: No, but not in general. I’m asking for a specific-

Noam: You want a specific moment?

Yaakov: Yeah. I want a moment.

Nachi: You think you could just make us vulnerable?

Noam: No, switch the script, that’s no problem. I, I would say, I would have to go back to high school. And it’s crazy how high school is such a formative time period. But when somebody wronged me in a pretty profound way, but when that person after wronging me just took me aside, just said, I really messed up. I hurt you. And it’s crazy to think about it, the thing that was done was really wrong, but I… And I’m keeping it vague, but I afterwards don’t hold any resentment towards that person. And people would be shocked that I don’t hold resentment towards that person, but I have zero resentment toward that person, because that person was genuine with me and I do bad things sometimes. I’ve messed up in my life.

I want people to – you know we say about Hashem, that he’s noach l’rtzot v’kasheh l’kos, that He’s easy to appease and difficult to anger. I want to be like that also, right? But it takes two two to tangle. And when somebody says that genuine apology, it just… it’s game changing for me.

Yaakov: That’s beautiful. That’s very beautiful.

Noam: Nachi, Yaakov, this was awesome to spend time with you. We have never met each other besides this context. I’ll get to learn from you, and get so many new ideas. And be inspired as a result of you. Thank you for joining the show. I’d love to hear if there’s anything else you want to add just as a closing remark.

Nachi: I don’t know if I was dreaming or I wasn’t sleeping, I don’t know what was going on. But I was thinking of just power of words, power of words, what could be said about the power of words. And I was thinking that HaShem, God has spoken to people. Some not with words, but specifically with Moshe and Aaron, Hashem spoke with words. And I thought that was very, very interesting to notice that how… If you want to think about the power of words, think about the fact that God Himself used words to communicate. It’s a Godly thing. Words are Godly. So if you want to wrap up in terms of, how not to speak Lashon hara and how to realize the power, God uses words. Those words are powerful.

Yaakov: That’s really beautiful. My point is going to be – like Nachi had a very Torah-oriented and really powerful, and yes, Nachi, meta idea. I’m going to have a lot smaller idea, but it’s just how it relates, I think, to Nachi and myself. I think I’m going to flex here, baruch Hashem, our podcast is always together with your other podcast up there in the charts. And thank God we have over a million downloads and over a million views on YouTube.

Noam: That’s amazing.

Yaakov: I think if you look at Nachi and myself we’re kids, we’re little kids, and we’re just having… trying to have these authentic, real conversations with people. And we’re both clearly and more myself not polished at all with words or how to communicate, but I think we’re real. I think we’re very curious, and I think that’s what lent… Everything’s from God, but I think that’s what helped us really get to where we are now.

And I think every person has that ability in their life. Not everyone’s trying to make a podcast, not everyone’s trying to make a show, but every person has interactions. Everyone could affect someone’s life with their words. I think we just… I’m talking to myself here, but you have to really realize, we are so powerful with how we communicate to people and really make big impacts on people’s lives. It usually feels insignificant, but we really have a lot to offer.

Noam: I agree. And to just be recipetive. See what I did there?

Yaakov: Nice. I like that. That’s very good. That’s very good. It took me a second, but that’s funny. I like that.

Nachi: Yaakov, it’s your word, come on.

Yaakov: I know. I’m going to start – Miriam Webster is in trouble. I’m coming after her.

Noam: Here comes Yaakov. So to be recipetive, I just want to say that I also walk away feeling either from a Jewish idea or from a more meta idea or a more personal thought, I think that there are so many educational lessons that we can all take from this. It’s not just being the most polished speaker necessarily. That’s not what the power of words is about. It’s about being authentic. It’s about having integrity.

It’s about having gratitude, having the willingness to show gratitude. It’s knowing that we all struggle with this. All of us struggle with the power of words, but if we could remember that Judaism has something to say about the power of speech and the power of words, then I think… And if we take daily rituals, then perhaps we can live more meaningful lives, more enriched lives, and hopefully enrich others as well. Hopefully that’s the goal. That’s the way I see it. Thanks for joining.

Yaakov: Thank you.

Nachi: Thank you.


So I keep reflecting on this conversation with Nachi and Yaakov, and thinking about the power of words. And as you might have picked up by now, I’m a quotes guy, I love them, they really often help me sharpen my thinking. And I read something awesome from the English novelist George Orwell. Orwell said, “If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”

And I felt like, this is exactly it. If my brain, if my heart, is bitter, is unhappy, is upset – it’s going to reflect in my words, in the way I communicate. As the saying goes, hurt people hurt people. I know when I’ve hurt people, 99% of the time, it was more about me than about them. And same when others have hurt me – it wasn’t about me, they were projecting their own pain outward. And Nachi and Yaakov – though they didn’t say it, really are solving that problem with their podcast. There’s pain, but there’s also good, and they’re sharing that good – that inspiration, that positivity (there’s that word again, I can’t stop), and it’s all through the power of words.

If I can leave us in this episode with a bit of inspiration, it’s this.  I’m not yet much of a hiker, but during the pandemic in LA, my wife and I and our three kids spent more time on the trails in three months than we did in the previous 10 years. And I picked up on a mantra that hikers have. It’s something like, “remember, clean up after yourself, and make sure to leave every place you are a little better than you found it.” As we go about the world – with our friends and family, with strangers on the internet, with people we love, with people we barely know, and perhaps most importantly, with the people we DO love – let’s remember the power of words, and push ourselves to leave every single place better than we found it.

Enjoy this podcast with friends by hosting a podcast listening party.

Subscribe to This Week Unpacked

Each week we bring you a wrap-up of all the best stories from Unpacked. Stay in the know and feel smarter about all things Jewish.