Since advertising executive Allen Kay came up with the phrase, “If you see something, say something,” it has become the unofficial slogan of post-9/11 America. Within days after the terrorist attack, the statement had gone viral. The idea is for citizens to reach out to the authorities if we see something alarming.
At the time, the phrase was just one of the many warning slogans the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York focused on for the new awareness campaign on city subway, trains and buses. Eventually, it became very popular and stuck with the New Yorkers who adopted it, making it their mantra.
Over the last 19 years, the MTA has spent millions of dollars per year on slogan-adorned placards for trains, subway cars and buses, as well as radio and TV ads. In 2007, the agency even trademarked it.
“If you see something, say something” has since been used by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Transportation Security Agency and by many cities in the U.S. and around the world.
For many growing up in New York City, including myself, this phrase has become part of our DNA. It empowered me to feel that if I speak up, I can potentially benefit another.
“Emor” – the name of this week’s Torah reading – means “Speak.”
Obviously, it’s just a single word, part of a conversation between G-d and Moses. However, we know the traditional name of a parsha always embodies an important lesson we can learn.
Chasidic philosophy puts an emphasis on speech and how it has an effect beyond what we think is just the simple act of schmoozing or kibitzing. Once words are uttered, they have significance.
Maimonides teaches us that a wise person “speaks always in praise of people, and never speaks negatively about others.” Knowing the power of words, a wise man uses speech to bring out the best in those he encounters. He uses encouraging, positive and inspiring words that can have an everlasting effect.
Most of us at some point have had such an experience – when someone, at the right time and place, told us exactly what we needed to hear.
Let’s be that person.
This is the message that “Emor” teaches us: “If you see something, say something.” Don’t keep positive thoughts to yourself. Share those good thoughts with other people, starting at home with our spouses, parents and children. Then, to our friends, neighbors and everyone we meet in the course of our day.
Rabbi Yossi Greenberg is the campus rabbi at Miami University in Oxford. Along with his wife, Mushka, they founded Chabad of Oxford in 2013.