One of the most important principles in our lives is to have Ahavas Yisroel – love for our fellow Jew. One of the primary ways this is accomplished is by abiding by the laws of Shemiras Halashon – guarding what we say to others, about the ills or faults of our fellow Jew.
Our sages comment that during the last phases of the second Temple period, the majority of the Jews were devout to and knowledgeable in Torah, yet, they exhibited baseless hatred towards each other. Slander and gossip were prevalent and as a result, G-d allowed His Temple to be destroyed.
Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan, also known as the Chofetz Chaim, was a champion of bringing the awareness of the laws of Lashon Harah to the Jewish people, through his saintly demeanor and the many books he wrote on the topic. He writes that if G-d destroyed the Temple because of the sins of baseless hatred and slander, He certainly won’t permit the third and everlasting Temple to be rebuilt as long as we are lax in this area.
King Solomon writes in the Book of Proverbs; “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” Although speaking Lashon Harah, evil gossip about your fellow, does not cause him bodily harm, often, the victim suffers more than if he had been physically abused. Physical harm heals over time, but humiliation and shame from Lashon Harah can leave deep emotional scars that may never heal.
My father in law, Rabbi Avrohom Gewirtzman o.b.m. in the book that he authored quotes the Chovos Halevovos who states that when one speaks Lashon Harah about his fellow, there is an interesting reassign that happens. All the Mitzvos – good deeds that the speaker has accrued are transferred to the subject who he has spoken about, and all the sins the subject had amassed are switched over to the speaker. This is a major deterrent for one not to speak negatively about someone who he does not care for.
My father in law then poses the following intriguing question. Based on this, if the speaker repents from speaking Lashan Harah, do his merits which left him then return back to him? Likewise, do the sins he received from the one he spoke about; now transfer back to the other?
My father in law does not resolve these questions. But it certainly provides us with food for thought and contemplation.
Our Sages tell us that the prayers of one who engages in Lashon Harah, are not accepted before G-d. However, the spiritual impurity that descends upon a person through speaking or listening to Lashon Harah, can be removed through repentance.
Why are the Heavenly gates locked for one who engages in Lashon Harah? When G-d created man, he distinguished him from the animal kingdom by investing him with the power of speech. Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin o.b.m. explains that speech is the tool through which mankind’s innovations in all realms of knowledge are transmitted to others and to the subsequent generations. Over the course of many generations, man has succeeded in studying, refining and building upon prior knowledge, thus achieving extraordinary levels of development in science, medicine and technology. Without speech and writing, the transfer of knowledge would be impossible and man’s intellect would stagnate like the animal kingdom.
Thus when one speaks and uses forbidden speech, he is abusing G-d’s gift to mankind. In effect, by speaking Lashon Harah, one is undermining his essence and demonstrates a lack of appreciation for what distinguishes him from the animal kingdom.
When one speaks Lashon Harah concerning his fellow, he belittles the Divine gift of the privilege of speech, therefore prayers that are uttered with this blemished tool are not welcome to stand before G-d.
Our resolve to refrain from speaking Lashon Harah enables our prayers to soar directly to the Heavens and generate the salvation which we so urgently need.