By Rabbi Yisroel Shusterman, Dean, Cheder Chabad of Monsey
Did you know that it is possible for a person to be murdered and not even know about it, even carrying on life as usual?
How can this be? This week’s Torah reading (Tazria-Metzora (Leviticus) 12:1-15:33) speaks of the affliction known as tzara’at. The commentators explain that tzara’at (a word uncannily similar to tzores!) was a punishment for the transgression of speaking lashon hara. Lashon hara, which translated literally, means “the evil tongue” or “evil speech,” includes slander, gossip and rumors, among other things.
As the old British wartime adage goes, “Careless talk costs lives.” The Talmud relates in the name of Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmani: “Why is the evil tongue called a thrice-slaying tongue? Because it kills three people: the person speaking, the person spoken to, and the person being spoken about.” It may not kill them physically, but it is character assassination.
Maimonides adds a further dimension: sometimes a person may say something that is not quite slander or gossip. Yet, as his statement passes from person to person, it eventually does cause harm, trouble, fright or hurt to the party being spoken about.
For example, even praising a person, if done in front of that person’s enemy who is liable to react negatively, could come under the category of slander or gossip.
Orchot Tzadikim (“Ways of the Righteous” an anonymous book on Jewish ethics written in Germany in the 15th century) comments: “Before you speak, you are the master of your words. After you speak, your words master you.” How often we feel imprisoned by our own words after we have said something that we wish we hadn’t or know we shouldn’t have.
The Midrash relates that Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel asked his servant, Tavi, to buy him something good from the market. The servant returned with some tongue. Rabbi Shimon then asked his servant to buy something bad from the market. The servant returned with more tongue. “How can this be? I asked you to buy something good, you bought tongue; I asked you to buy something bad, you also bought tongue?” Replied Tavi, “It has good and bad. When it is good, it has a lot of goodness. When it is bad, it is very bad.”
We speak thousands of words every day. Words have enormous power. May we merit to use them only for good purposes.
(Excerpts from Chabad.org - from Rabbi Mordechai Wollenberg)
May you have a meaningful and uplifting Shabbos!