A Conservative rabbi (The Healer of Shattered Hearts, 1990) ponders the ways by which words link God and humans. Wolpe wrote this book after his mother suffered a stroke that left her unable to speak or write, and the pages that describe her illness and her family's subsequent prayers are the beat here, deepened by the sense of tragedy. For the most part, though, the author steers clear of personal narrative, turning to figures from the Bible--Joshua, Job, Moses--to illustrate his points. His central theme is attractive, if unoriginal: that words are sacred, for they bring us to God, and that, finally, words must be replaced by silence, by ""an understanding that passes beyond words."" Wolpe speaks with authority of Talmud and Midrash, of song and prayer, and includes some memorable anecdotes (for instance, that Jewish children beginning religious school would be greeted by a chart of letters smeared with honey, tangible proof of the sweetness of words). One big problem, however: Wolpe uses far too many words himself, and shows a particular liking for aphoristic overkill--""to be human is to speak""; ""words are swords and they are shields""; ""words sandblast the self,"" and so on. Nietzsche he's not--just the opposite, in fact: a teacher of kindness and common sense who shows no ability to turn a maxim. Good feelings galore, but next time, hold those maxims.