Food For the Soul
Speak no evil
The Gemara says that lashon hara—spreading true, derogatory information about someone else—harms three people: the speaker, the listener and the subject of the gossip. During biblical times, the punishment for evil speech was swift: the speaker would be stricken with tzaraat, a disease that required one to be isolated from the camp.
So, how do we stop the epidemic of gossip? Oddly enough, dwelling at length on the negative effects of gossip does little to stop its spread. It seems that the more we talk about how terrible it is to gossip, the stronger our urge to indulge in it becomes. We condemn the gossiper while not confronting the ways that we feed into it.
This week we read the dual Torah portions of Tazria and Metzora. The portion of Tazria discusses the various symptoms and identifying marks of tzaraat, while Metzora deals with the purification process.
The names of the two joined Parshiot, however, could not be more different in character. The word tazria means “to conceive,” and the Parshah begins with the laws of a woman who has just given birth. Metzora refers to one who has tzaraat, a serious condition likened to death.
Yet the juxtaposition of these two names gives us a powerful insight into overcoming the negative effects of gossip and slander. The recovery process for the metzora holds within it the key to tazria—the flourishing of new life. The enforced isolation of the metzora is intended as a time of self-reflection and personal growth.
When we find ourselves caught in a web of gossip, that’s a clue that we need to take a break. We need to step outside that social interaction until we can figure out what’s going wrong. What inner need of ours is going unfulfilled, to the point that we are taking our frustrations out on others? Are we feeling small and depleted, and trying to put down others to compensate? Or maybe we’re just bored, and need more stimulating activities to occupy our mind. The way to stop lashon hara is not by condemning it, but by isolating it—reflecting on the circumstances that lead to it, and finding ways to nurture ourselves so we have less of a need to demean others.
From an article by Chaya Shuchat, Chabad.org
Preparation for Shavuot Begins
The Sages of old instituted, yet in the times of the Holy Temple, that thirty days before the onset of a holiday the teachers should begin publicly instructing the masses regarding the laws of the holiday; e.g. from Purim and onwards to teach the laws of Passover, and from the 5th of Iyar (Shabbat, April 17, 2021) and onwards to teach the laws of Shavuot” (Shulchan Aruch Harav 429:1). In preparation for the festival of Shavuot, we study one of the six chapters of the Talmud’s Ethics of the Fathers (“Avot”) on the afternoon of each of the six Shabbatot between Passover and Shavuot. On Shabbat April 17 we begin to study Chapter Two. (In many communities — and such is the Chabad custom — the study cycle is repeated through the summer, until the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah.)
Mind Over Matter
You talking about me?
Two of the ten identifying characteristics of a truly virtuous person are the inability to perceive evil in another and the absolute determination to only portray others in a positive light (Maimonides, Tract on Reason, Chap 5). Chassidic philosophy explains that this is not self-delusional. Rather, speaking positively about others causes them to act positively. The very act of ascribing positive rationales to the intemperate behaviors one witnesses, unlocks the innate, though hereto concealed goodness embedded in people’s psyche, and develops their moral disposition to the point where they will automatically be driven to live up to your self-fulfilling prophecy. Speak positively about others, let your words impact the world and let others be affected by those words, live up to your belief in them.
From an article by Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum
For as long as the galut (exile) persists, Moshiach is called chivara (afflicted with tzara’at – a biblical disease of the skin likened to leprosy). He himself is essentially pure and perfect, and his affliction merely reflects the condition of galut. The very moment of the redemption, when Moshiach will be revealed and his real being and righteousness will become manifest to all, that is “the day of his purification.” The redemption will demonstrate how in Moshiach is fulfilled the verse, “the leprous mark has healed in the one afflicted by it” (Metzora 14:3).
From an article by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
Have I Got A Story
The price of “free speech”
Hannah Smith was a fourteen-year-old schoolgirl living in Lutterworth, Leicestershire. Bright and outgoing, she enjoyed an active social life and seemed to have an exciting future ahead of her. On the morning of August 2, 2013, Hannah was found hanged in her bedroom. She had committed suicide. Seeking to unravel what had happened, her family soon discovered that she had been the target of anonymous abusive posts on a social-network website. Hannah was a victim of the latest variant of the oldest story in human history: the use of words as weapons by those seeking to inflict pain. The new version is called cyberbullying.
The Jewish phrase for this kind of behavior is lashon hara, evil speech, speech about people that is negative and derogatory. It means, quite simply, speaking badly about people, and is a subset of the biblical prohibition against spreading gossip.
Despite the fact that it is not singled out in the Torah for a prohibition in its own right, the sages regarded it as one of the worst of all sins. They said, astonishingly, that it is as bad as the three cardinal sins—idolatry, murder and incest—combined. More significantly in the context of Hannah Smith, they said it kills three people: the one who says it, the one he says it about, and the one who listens in.
The story of Hannah Smith and other teenage suicides is a tragic reminder of how right the sages were to reject the idea that “words can never harm me,” and insist to the contrary that evil speech kills. Free speech is not speech that costs nothing. It is speech that respects the freedom and dignity of others. Forget this, and free speech becomes very expensive indeed.
From an article by Rabbi Jonathan Sachs
Is “negative reporting” ever allowed in Jewish law?
We are obligated to try and keep others from harm but doing so without committing lashan hara is tricky and you should speak with an Orthodox rabbi about the specific situation. Of “whistle-blowing”, Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin writes in Chabad.org:
Having ascertained that a situation may call for whistle-blowing, it is important to keep in mind that the prohibition of talebearing is still in effect. In light of this, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan (commonly known as the Chafetz Chaim) outlines certain conditions that, when met, suspend the prohibition of talebearing:
The objective of revealing the wrongdoing must be a legitimate benefit, such as righting the wrong done to the victim.
You must be certain that the information you have about the wrongdoing is factually correct, and know for certain that the person you are accusing is guilty.
You may report only the relevant facts objectively, without exaggeration; any exaggeration violates the prohibition of speaking falsehood.
Before telling others, you must first satisfy your obligation of admonishing the wrongdoers yourself.
The disclosure should not cause greater harm than is necessary for the achievement of the whistle-blower’s objective.
There must be no other means by which the desired effect can be achieved.
The report should be motivated solely by the desire to right a wrong. If the motivation is a long-standing grudge or a desire to ridicule the wrongdoer, the report should not be made.