Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Evil Tongue (Lashon Hara)

As we read through this week's Torah portion, Kedoshim ("Holy People" - Leviticus 19:1-20:27), I want to continue to highlight some of the teachings that God gave to His people. On Monday we talked about the concept of leaving the corners of the field for the poor to glean.

Today I want to speak of lashon hara, the "evil tongue." This concept is found in 19:16,

"Do not go around spreading slander among your people, but also don't stand idly by when your neighbor's life is at stake; I am the LORD." (CJB)
Basically, God is saying that speaking evil is a big deal to Him. We humans may take it lightly, thinking "everyone does it" or "sticks and stones may break bones, but names will never hurt them." God doesn't see it that way. He even compares speaking ill of others to murder!
Have you ever noticed when you are about to tell someone something that you shouldn't, your eyes light up and your pulse starts to race a little? It's exciting, and that's why we do it. However, that little chemical in our brain that is giving us a little pleasure for the moment is also mixed with pangs of guilt (i.e., the Holy Spirit) telling us that what we are doing is wrong.
Lashon hara is a powerful force. In the B'rit Chadasha (Renewed Covenant), James says that the tongue is like a little rudder that steers a huge ship. How true! There was a rabbi named Chofetz Chaim (1838-1933) that spent many years of his life studying and writing about lashon hara. In the introduction to Chofetz Chaim: A Lesson A Day, the authors state the following:

"Lashon hara is a weapon manufactured soley from words, yet the Torah considers the harm those words create to be massive. So sharp a wedge does lashon hara drive between a [person] and [God] that it even deprives him of Divine assistance in a time of need...

Lashon hara destroyed the Beis HaMikdash [the Temple] and keeps it in ruins today. The [Temple] was the Shechinah's dwelling place among [God's] chosen people...

Not only does lashon hara deprive a [person] of the fruits of his labors in Torah, it actually causes those [labors] to be exchanged for sins." (Chofetz Chaim: A Lesson A Day, quotes from pg. xxxi-xxxiii)

Try going on a "lashon hara" fast for even a day and see how difficult it is to not speak anything about another person. It is an awesome exercise, and every time I do it I learn to weigh my words very carefully. We should, of course, strive to do this always as we see that God considers it very serious. We don't always see the devastating effects of our words, but it is highly possible that something we say can ruin someone's life.

Be encouraged today that even though we cannot stop this fire of lashon hara in our own strength, but with God's help we can! We can do "all things through Messiah who strengthens us!"

Have a great day and don't forget to get your free drink at Carvel Ice Cream!

Thanks to the New York Times for the picture!

1 comment:

wendymom said...

There are so many facets of lashon hara. We of course think immediately of the evil we are doing when we speak negatively of someone. But what surprises me is that the prohibition of speaking "good" about others. I like the example of disclosing to others that someone you know won the lottery. What, seemingly, is bad about that? Isn't a friend coming into some money a good thing? Not so. It could make the recipient of the "good news"
jealous, or want to hit the lucky person up for money or mad that they didn't share the wealth already. It could make the recipient of the news think badly of the person, if they themselves have convictions against gambling. This whole subject is so heavy to ponder! 'Guard Your Tongue' by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin is a wonderfully easy to read adaptation from the Chofetz Chaim's words. Thanks for reminding us how G-d feels about this.