Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Speaking of Lashon Hara (Evil Slander...)

"It's just talk," you might say. "What harm does it really do?" you might think. "Am I physically hurting anybody?" you might compromise – as you consider whether there really is any problem in speaking about someone else. Let us not be mistaken in thinking just how much damage that particular vessel just below our noses can actually do. It does not just contain a soft piece of flesh that seems to babble away at most of life's futilities. Rather, that small piece of flesh can literally kill people – faster than a gun. It's sharper than a sword!

For this reason the Torah devotes a good share of two Parshiyot (Tazria-Metzora) to the consequences of evil slander. The experience had by the one "caught out" is by no means pleasant (and perhaps even a little embarrassing!) – having first to be inspected by a Kohein to check the reason as to why certain lesions and the like begin to grow on his body, to having to be put in quarantine for possible "infection," to ultimately having to spend "good time" by oneself (an appropriate punishment for one who cannot do anything better in life than to slander all other people,) in a state of impurity waiting for healing from G-d.

Is it really that bad – we continue to ask, if one just tells another about someone else? Or does it matter if one just shares a story about what one person said to the other about someone else – or what one person saw another doing when they were out shopping?! We only want their best – and we feel justified in letting all and sundry know the "deficiencies" of the other – from the level of their wealth, to the way they look physically, to the way they speak or move about, let alone how wise or foolish they may be. Speaking about the activities they're up to and what they're saying about others and sharing all of that with yet others – is surely just a part of life to keep society normal… to be fair to everyone and let everyone else know what should be the entitled privacy of every individual person?!

And then, there are again many "authorities" who already know all the laws of Lashon Hara after having already attended a one hour Shiur explaining what it's all about.  They may even tell you they already know what Lashon Hara – evil slander – is. They know it, and what they're about to say – is the exception – the part that's permitted to be said.

Yet the Chofetz Chaim (Rabbi Yisrael Meir HaKohen Kagan 1839-1933) compiled a number of intensive works devoted to this subject – notably his main work "Chafetz Chaim" – after which he was named for always. Who is the man who desires life? Guard your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit! In his work, he lists not only the detailed laws involved, but points out clearly that one may come to violate 17 negative commandments and 14 positive commandments with each word of evil slander one says about another – let alone the numerous curses one brings upon oneself for doing so.

Ask anyone who has been harmed by the effects of harmful evil slander said "in jest" by "friends" and you'll find out that many have lost out on opportunities to marry, to succeed in business – or even just get a job to be able to support themselves and live! Let alone those whose entire families have been ostracised from the "normal" Jewish community as a result of the "truth" being said. At least we're not alone… it's not only our thinking that this is real. The Chafetz Chaim continues to reiterate these points page after page in his work(s) detailing the harmful effects that occur every single moment a bad word is said about another (or even what many consider a "good word".) It's must reading for every single Jew. In fact, learning just two laws a day will take 4 months to cover the work. Then of course there are the other works to get through… And, one must revise, revise and revise! 

While eating a non-Kosher piece of meat may only incur one or two negative commandments – consider that each word of slander said about your "fellow Jew" costs a total of some 31 transgressions. It's kind of like watching the one-arm bandit machine at the casino when one hits the jackpot… the figures on the screen multiply in leaps and bounds in seconds! Here, however, while those figures go up – they're not going up for the good.

Let's just take one example of the disaster that occurs when one "harmlessly" says something about someone to someone else. It falls into the category of Rechilus – another section of evil slander where one goes about sharing the latest updates about others to those who we feel may be interested in hearing them. From the example, we should do well to appreciate that any form of negative and evil slander, whether about another to another, or whether a story about the happenings of someone else is bound to have ripple effects – such that can lead to consequences and results that may even be life threatening!

The Chofetz Chaim calls this incident an "Oys Firn" in the Yiddish vernacular – something that could be translated as "An out-lead" – or to rephrase that, the "real effect" of that "harmless" comment said without caring where it would go to.

The Chofetz Chaim tells us just how many transgressions we commit and just how far reaching the effects are from a simple story:

Reuven starts to tell Shimon: "Levi spoke about you to me such and such." Immediately Reuven transgresses the Mitzvah of, "Do not go around as a tale bearer amongst your nation," as well as other positive and negative Mitzvot. Shimon believes what Reuven says (and he know transgresses the negative of, "Don't believe a false report" and other positive and negative commandments.)

Afterwards when Shimon meets Levi he begins to blaspheme and insult him (and thereby transgresses the negative, "Let no man taunt and hurt their fellow with words".) Can it be that just because he accepted these words of evil slander and believes that he (Levi) had spoken evil slander about him that he now believes it has become permitted for him to hurt the other back?!

Now, Levi stands in amazement! For what reason are you cursing me? Until Shimon answers him angrily, "Why did you insult me in front of Reuven? Did you think I wouldn't come to find out? Surely Reuven would come to tell me! (And he transgresses also the negative, "Do not go around as a tale-bearer…" which relates to things that are spoken in truth. And he answers him and says, "Could it be that Reuven lied to me about you and that it was for nothing that he told me about you insulting me?"

Afterwards when Shimon encounters Reuven, his inclination incites him even more to finish off the matter on a good note! So he says to him, "Because of your lies, I was incited to tell off Levi for nothing! And he told me that there never were such things ever!" (He never said such things about me and you lied!)

So one sin leads to another...  Reuven now says to Shimon, "Come with me and you'll see that I will say these things directly to his face!" As things turn out, life has a way that those who wish to make themselves impure – get given the opportunity to – so he goes along with him and meets up together with Levi, and Shimon says to Reuven, "Okay, tell it to his face now!" So he clothes himself in the garment of arrogance and says, "You spoke about Shimon in front of me such and such (and now he transgresses yet again "Do not go about as a tale-bearer…" even though it's the truth!)

Immediately Levi turns ash-white (and now Reuven transgresses yet again – this time by the Mitzvah of, "Do not bear sin on account of him.") And Levi answers, "You have spoken the truth. But I never said these things using the tone of your voice and the way you are saying them now." As is known a number of things can change from just one movement.

Shimon answers, "Now, even if you deny this 1000 times, I can never believe you (Levi) since he said these things in front of you! (And he transgresses also on "Do not believe a vain report.)

Can it be that just because this evil fellow clothes himself in a garment of arrogance and says it in front of him that suddenly the prohibition of believing a false report can simply fall away?!

Here we have just a small example of just how many transgressions can come about through the love of this terrible attribute! Had Reuven only just gone in the ways of G-d, he would have simply kept quiet and (at best) would have simply suspected that perhaps Shimon had lied about Levi and not have to have actually gone together with Shimon to Levi and then to add sins upon his first sin.

When we study Torah – we must be prepared to want to grow. Part of growth, part of a healthy society, is the ability to see each person for what they are and doing our best to help each person at the place that they find themselves. Evil slander is simply our way of telling ourselves – and G-d – and others, that there really is nobody in the world greater than ourselves. If this is truly how we think, then the afflictions brought upon the slandered – the lesions and strange bald spots are simply G-d's way of letting us know that there really is no better place for ourselves than to sit – away from people with our faces covered all day and night – as we call out to the world and anyone else who has the displeasure of being in our immediate vicinity, "Tamei Tamei" – I am impure… I am impure.

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