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Is there any truth to the common claim that each person has a predetermined number of words that he can speak in his life? Source, please.

If so, then how does it work? In particular (with sources or arguments, please):

  • To whom does this apply? Jews? others?
  • Does each person have the same number (what number?) or words, or does each person have his own number?
  • Can the number change during the course of a person's life, e.g. based on his merits?
  • What happens when he runs out of words? Does he go mute? die?
  • Does any language count? (Agglutinative languages' speakers may live long, depending on the answer to the immediately previous subquestion.)
  • Do words of tora study and prayer count?
  • Does writing words count as saying them? Does signing them?
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What do you mean by truth? Is there a source that says this for musar? Yes. Does it actually work? You would have to do a double blind study for that... Taking such statements to their logical conclusion seems to miss the point of the statement however. –  avi Jul 28 '11 at 6:11
    
Like @avi was hinting the meaning of this musar is probably: speak every word as if you had only a finite number of words to speak in your lifetime. –  David Perlman Jul 28 '11 at 9:52
    
I was under the impression that this was a kabbalistic idea, but I could certainly be wrong. –  JXG Jul 28 '11 at 11:58
    
@avi, not for musar. I was wondering whether there's a source that says this as an actual fact: one really does have only a finite number of words. –  msh210 Jul 31 '11 at 4:10
    
@DavidPerlman, please see my above comment addressed to avi. –  msh210 Jul 31 '11 at 4:11
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3 Answers 3

I've heard and seen this idea, in stories / biographies of people careful with how many words they used. but I could not locate an online source. The closest so far is:

"When a man speaks and expels hevel (breath) from his mouth - this breath is his lifeforce (chiyuso). The proof of this is after the soul has left the body, there is not left in him neither breath nor speech. Therefore we find that this breath that comes out from his mouth when he speaks is a chelek nishmaso (a part of his soul). And therefore we have been commanded to not speak useless speech - which causes a loss of part of his soul." (Petach Einayim Nedarim 22, in name of Rav Chaim Vital zt'l)

It would make sense for the former idea to develop from the latter. That there is a source, of course, does not ensure that it is true...

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+1, thanks. Weak, though (as you note). –  msh210 Aug 2 '11 at 20:46
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The 5th Chabad Rebbe writes that the power of speech is infinite, it would stand to reason therefore that the answer is no, there is not a finite number of words that one can speak.

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NKU3, Welcome to Judaism.SE, and thanks very much for that reference! You could make your answer even more valuable by citing a specific source. –  Isaac Moses Jul 31 '11 at 23:32
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A source is especially important here since it sounds from your answer that he is referring to quality, not quantity. –  YDK Aug 1 '11 at 5:06
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@YDK: I don't know where the Rashab (5th Lubavitcher Rebbe) talks about this, but the Baal Hatanya (1st one) writes, in ch. 20 of Tanya, that a person's faculty of speech "can produce an infinite number of words" - which shows that he, at least, is indeed referring to quantity rather than quality. –  Alex Jan 31 '12 at 6:14
    
@Alex, pick a hemshech, any hemshech =D. Specifically, I think the Rebbe Rashab discusses it in the beginning of Rana"t. I seem to remember it discussing koach hadibbur there. –  HodofHod May 1 '12 at 13:57
    
@Alex What? Isn't he obviously saying "an infinite number of different words"? Obviously one does not have time to speak infinitely many words in a finite lifetime. –  NBZ May 16 at 14:01
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I think the Baal Shem Tov would say this. I don't know of an earlier source.

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No earlier source — but do you have a source that the BST said it? –  msh210 Aug 5 '11 at 16:59
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