Temple Adat Elohim
JULY / AUGUST 2018
Guard Your Tongue! “ Do not go about as a talebearer among your people .” (Leviticus 19:16)
Our ability to speak is one of the wonders of being human. We are able to use words to communicate our feelings and thoughts and to share information. With words, we can give hope, we can heal, we can speak of love, we can console others, and with words we can cause great harm. According to Pirkei Avot , “it is the wise person who organizes his thoughts, considers the consequences of his words, and thinks carefully before he speaks.” All of us, at some time, say something that directly or indirectly hurts another person. Lashon Hara literally means bad “talk.” This means according to the Talmud that it is forbidden to speak negatively about someone else, even if it is true. The Talmud teaches that words used thoughtlessly can harm three people, “the one who relates the hurtful words, the one who listens to them, and the one about whom the words are told.” The power we wield when we speak is far beyond what we can perceive. The words we speak are the outward expressions of who we are at heart. Lashon Hara is so powerful that it can erase the merits of a lifetime of Torah learning, mitzvah observance, and a reputation of a good name. Just as the negative consequences of speech can be so vast, the positive consequences of proper speech are even greater. The Vilna Gaon , Rabbi Eliyahu, was a very influential Jewish leader who died in 1790 said, “proper speech is the single biggest factor in determining one’s portion in the World-to-Come.” The Chofetz Chaim , a book that deals with the Jewish ethics and laws of speech, and is considered the authoritative source on the subject, tells us that adherence to the laws of proper speech empowers our praying, validates our Torah learning, and invokes the reputation of being an honorable and just person. The Torah describes different situations and conditions, and identifies when the speech is forbidden, permissible, and even desirable. One type of Lashon Hara , speaking lies (slander) is called “ Motzi Shem Ra ,” or “spreading a bad name.” It’s pretty easy to imagine how lies, and even exaggeration, can unfairly damage another’s reputation. There is an interesting story that I read regarding a man who went about the community telling malicious lies about the rabbi in his town. Later, he realized the wrong he had done, and began to feel remorse. He went to the rabbi and begged his forgiveness, saying he would do anything he could to make amends. The rabbi told the man, “Take a feather pillow, cut it open, and scatter the feathers to the winds.” The man thought this was a strange request, but it was a simple enough task, and he did it gladly. When he returned to tell the rabbi that he had done it, the rabbi said, “Now, go and gather the feathers. Because you can no more make amends for the damage your words have done than you can recollect the feathers.” Speech has been compared to an arrow, “once the words are released, like an arrow, they cannot be recalled, the harm they do cannot be stopped, and the harm they do cannot always be predicted, for words like arrows often go astray.” The damage done by speech is even worse than the harm done by stealing or by cheating someone financially since money lost can be repaid; however, the hurt done by speech can never be repaired. For this reason, some sources indicate that there is no forgiveness for disparaging speech. (Continues on page 9)
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