From the Team at Halacha Yomit
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
Lashon Hara! [The Power of the Tongue and Speech]
It is written in the parasha, “If a person has a [white] blotch, discoloration or spot on the skin of his body, and it is [suspected] of being a mark of the leprous curse on his skin, he shall be brought to Aron, or to one of his descendants, who are the cohanim” (Vayikra 13:2). This means that a person who saw a suspected leprous curse of any amount would come to the cohen who would rule what he should do.
Our chachamim said in the Midrash: Since Bnei Yisrael heard the parasha about leprous curses, they were afraid. Moshe said to them, don’t be afraid, these are for idol worshippers, but you should eat, drink and rejoice, as it states: “Many are the agonies of the wicked, but as for one who trusts in Hashem, kindness surrounds him” (Tehillim 32:10).
The Midrash may be explained as follows. Our chachamim explain in the Gemara (Berachot 5a) “afflictions cleanse a person’s sins”. This means that the affliction cleanses a person’s sins just like a doctor operates on a sick person. Despite the fact that the cure is harsh on the sick person, nevertheless, it is for their benefit. Likewise with maladies of the soul, the afflictions are the surgery through which the soul is healed. This is the intention of the passuk in Tehillim, “Many are the agonies of the wicked”, he doesn’t fathom that the leprous curses are for his benefit, but “as for one who trusts in Hashem, kindness surrounds him”, for the one who trusts in Hashem knows that no bad shall come from Him and the afflictions will bring about kindness for him.
This is the intention of the Midrash. Since the Bnei Yisrael heard the parasha of leprous curses, they were fearful lest they will be afflicted by them and it will cause them pain. Therefore Moshe said to them, these are for the wicked people for whom afflictions are only anguish, but you, eat, drink and rejoice, for you should accept them from with love, for they will bring about for you only good.
The reason leprous curses afflict a person or his home, is because they transgressed the sin of lashon hara, as they said in the Gemara (Eirachin 16a): “For seven things leprous curses come, and one of them is lashon hara”.
Some think that the prohibition of speaking lashon hara is only if it is false. For example he slanders his friend with things that are untrue, and publicises this. But this is a mistake on their part because that wouldn’t be classed as “lashon hara” but rather “motzi shem ra” (lit. “giving someone a bad name with lies”). Whereas the prohibition of lashon hara is specifically when a person tells the truth about his fellow, and despite this, it is still totally forbidden to do so.
Three are harmed by lashon hara: the speaker, the listener and the person who is spoken about. The person spoken about is harmed by their lashon hara, whilst the speaker and listener are punished for having spoken lashon hara.
It is related about the Gaon the Chafetz Chaim z”l (whose famous work deals entirely will the laws of lashon hara), that when he reached his 90th birthday, he arranged a seuda in his home. His relatives were surprised, why is he making this big seuda at the age of ninety? They asked. He explained that he was always worried that should he pass away without having lived long, people will accuse him of “talking nicely but not nicely fulfilling” (meaning he just gives derashot but doesn’t fulfil what he preaches), since it is written “Who is the man who desires life, who loves days of seeing good? Guard your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit” (Tehillim 34:13-4), this means that if a person guards their tongue from lashon hara he merits long life. And so when he merited to long life, he arranged a seuda and rejoiced that he had achieved the words of the passuk, and that others won’t chas veshalom mock him and his book on lashon hara.
The core reason that causes a person to talk lashon hara about his fellow, is because he sees his fellow’s faults but not his own. Like a camel that sees its hump and is unaware that it too carries one!
Rebbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev z”l (1740-1809), would often say that a person is created with two eyes, so that with one he will look at his own faults and with the other the qualities of his fellow. But [sadly] people do the reverse. With one eye they see their qualities and with the second their fellow's faults.
How powerful is the tongue? Go and learn from what they said in the Midrash Tehillim on the passuk “I said, ‘I will guard my ways from sinning with my tongue’” (Tehillim 39:2). It once happened with a Persian King who was about to die and was very weak. The doctors said to him, your only cure is to bring the milk of a lioness and drink it so that you may be cured. He sent word to King Shlomoh ben David who immediately summoned Benayahu ben Yehoyada. He said to him, “How may we milk a lioness?” Benayahu said to him, “Give me ten goats”. He, together with the king’s servants, went to the lion’s den and there was one lioness nursing her cub. On the first day he stood from a distance and threw one goat, on the second day he drew a bit closer and threw another, and so he did on each day. After ten days he was able to get very close to her until he could play with her and milked her, and then he went on his way.
They gave the milk to the king’s doctor. When he was travelling to the king, he saw in a dream that all his many limbs were arguing amongst themselves. The feet said, “There are no limbs like us, since if we hadn’t gone to the bring the milk, the body wouldn’t be able to present it”. The hands responded, “There is none like us since if we couldn’t feel, no one could have brought the milk”. The eyes said, “We are superior to everything, since if we hadn’t navigated the journey, nothing would have happened”. The heart responded, “I am above you all, for if I hadn’t given the advice nothing would have transpired”. Then the tongue piped up, “I am the best, for without speech what would you have achieved?” All the limbs united in response to the tongue and said, “How can you compare yourself to us? You sit in darkness [i.e. inside the mouth] and you don’t even possess a bone like the other limbs!” The tongue replied, “Today you shall see that I am master over you all!”
When he awoke, he kept the dream to himself and travelled on his way. He entered the king’s court and said to him, “Here’s the dog’s milk that we ordered for you, go drink it!” Immediately the king was furious with him and demanded that they hang him for having been so rude to the king (that he brought a dog’s milk rather than a lioness’s milk).
As he awaited his death, he dreamt again. The tongue said to them all, “See! I told you all that today you shall see that you are nothing. Now, if I save you all will you admit that I am master over you all?” They replied to it, “Yes!” When he awoke, he immediately said to those who were scheduled to hang him, “Take me to the king”. They brought him to the king, and he said to him, “Why did you decree my death by hanging?” He replied, “Because you brought me dog milk”. He retorted, “In our language we call a lioness a dog, and indeed this is the milk of a lioness!” The king took the milk, drank it and was cured, and he repealed the decree of death and sent him away in peace. The limbs said to him, “Now we admit to you that you are master over all the limbs”.
Indeed this is what King Shlomoh said, “Death and life is in the hand of the tongue” (Mishlei 18:21). Happy and content is the person who doesn’t speak lashon hara.