(Torah Portion Ki Seitzai) Gossip

In this week’s Parsha, the Torah instructs us, “Zechor – remember – what had happened to Moshe’s sister Miriam.” She had developed a blemish as a result of Lashon Harah – speaking ill – of her brother.

While she was excommunicated from the encampment for a week’s time because of this blemish, the entire nation waited for her delaying their travel towards Israel until she was allowed to rejoin them. Thus the Torah gives us an idea just how severe the prohibition of speaking Lashon Harah is.
One of the most important parts of our lives is to have Ahavas Yisroel – love for our fellow Jew. One of the primary ways to accomplish this is by abiding by the laws of Shemiras Halashon – guarding what we say to others, about our fellow Jew.

Our sages comment that during the last days of the second Temple, the majority of the Jews were devout and knowledgeable in Torah, yet, they exhibited baseless hatred towards each other. Slander and gossip were prevalent. G-d, therefore allowed the Temple to be destroyed.

Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan, also known as the Chofetz Chaim, was a champion of bringing awareness of the laws of Lashon Harah, 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 our fellow does not cause direct 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 never heal.

Our Sages tell us that the prayers of one who engages excessively in Lashon Harah are not accepted before G-d.

However, the spiritual impurity that descends upon a person through his speaking or listening to Lashon Harah can be removed with repentance.

Why are the Heavenly gates locked for one who engages in Lashon Harah? When G-d created man, he distinguished him from the animals 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 and skill are transmitted to his neighbor, and to subsequent generations. Over the course of many generations, man has succeeded in working over and refining his knowledge, thus achieving extraordinary levels of accomplishments in the sciences, medicine, architecture and technology. Without speech and writing, the transfer of knowledge would be impossible and man’s intellect would stagnate leaving him similar to the animal kingdom.

Thus when one speaks or uses other forms of forbidden speech, he is abusing G-d’s gift to mankind. In effect, by speaking Lashon Harah, one is undermining his essence and demonstrating a lack of appreciation for what distinguishes him from the animal kingdom.

Hashem, the King of the universe, lovingly endowed us with the instrument of speech; we certainly do not want to abuse it by expressing that which is abhorrent to the King. Rather, we should treat it with the utmost respect.

Since one who speaks Lashon Harah about his fellow belittles the Divine gift of speech, the prayers uttered with this blemished tool are undesirable to stand before G-d.

When we resolve to refrain from speaking or listening to Lashon Harah, our words of prayers remain pure and soar to the Heavens most effectively, bringing us maximum results and return for our requests!

Wishing you a restful, peaceful
and inspirational Shabbos!

Rabbi Dovid Saks