Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Speech is Why We’re Here



Although the Gesher HaChaim enumerates no less than thirteen specific attributes that distinguish human beings from animals, the miracle of speech is the gold standard of that distinction, and through it man connects to Hashem by way of Limud Torah and tefillah.

Rabbi Zev Leff informs us that this use of our faculty of speech for the purposes of learning Torah and dialoging with Hashem is not incidental.  At its core, speech is the outward representation of the Neshama and the means by which one manifests his inner kedusha.  

It’s all about bringing out the spiritual potential from our Neshamos through speech by way of Torah and tefillah.  In this way we build the world and infuse it with the energy it needs to exist.

When you crystallize what’s in your mind it coalesces into a thought that subsequently morphs into speech which is invariably a catalyst for action.

Simply put, speech is why we’re here.

Therefore, it follows that a person who takes speech, whose purpose is to give life, and uses it instead to tear down people and the world, is abusing the essence of life and turning it into an agent of death.  Loshon Hora vaporizes a person’s claim to be a human being by destroying that aspect of creation that distinguishes us from the animals.

Is it any wonder then that Rav Leff tells us that Loshon Hora is an act of destruction that he compares to total death?

And do we not also see this in what happened to Miriam when she spoke Loshon Hora against her brother Moshe, and as a consequence thereof all of her skin turned white from tzoras?

Why tzoras?

Whereas Loshon Hora negates a person’s spiritual life and transforms him into a virtual dead person soul wise, a metzorah, whose flesh is covered from head to toe with tzoras, represents the physical mirror image of that rotting soul.

Like we said above, speech is why we’re here. 

And when man puts that faculty of speech into play to create, by uniting man in the service of Hashem, he hits the high note of his purpose in this world.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Chofetz Chaim’s Twofer


In GuardYourSpeak: Don’t Even Think About It, we mentioned that in the introduction to Sefer Chofetz Chaim the Chofetz Chaim lists 17 Laveen (negative mitzvos) and 14 Aseen (positive mitzvos) that one might potentially violate by either speaking or believing loshon hora.  While most of these mitzvos are not about loshon hora per se in their essence, the Chofetz Chaim tells us that when one crosses the line on loshon hora he may also be violating one or more of these Aseen or Laveen.

Then in GuardYourSpeak: Duck!, we tightened the noose around the vagueness by jettisoning the word potentially, and then noted that when you decided to create even the faintest of sound waves that tilted toward Loshon Hora you empowered the Satan to charge you with violating an absolute minimum of 6 out of the 17 Laveen and 5 of the 14 Aseen that the Chofetz Chaim listed in the introduction to his sefer.  And for good measure, you also brought two of the three curses down upon your head.

For those without calculators, this works out to a minimum of 11Torah violations for every comment that crosses the line from what is permitted to what is not, with two curses thrown in for good measure. 

And one of them is Do not go tale-bearing about another Jew.

You told Reuven what Shimon said about him?

Mazel tov!  The Chofetz Chaim specifically mentions you by name in his sefer.  Not the one your parents gave you when they named you for your great uncle, but the one that names you for yourself, because the act of placing into Reuven’s ears what came out of Shimon’s mouth stamped you as a talebearer, for the Chofetz Chaim asks rhetorically who is a talebearer, and then answers: The one who learns about things and then goes from place-to-place saying “This is what he said about you,” or “This is what I heard he did to you.”

And Mr. Talebearer, if you could fold your cards at this point and slip away quietly into the night things would be bad enough because the Chofetz Chaim adds that even if the Rechilus that you spoke is true, your type of language destroys the world.

But the truth is that your situation isn’t bad enough as is.  It’s actually much worse than that by a long shot because, ironically enough, the Chofetz Chaim’s very severe indictment of your loose lips is, comparatively speaking, the good news.

After informing us in very severe terms that your type of language destroys the world, the Chofetz Chaim then tells us that every verbal foray into the nether world of Rechilus brings even a greater sin in its train which is included in the of Lav of Do not go tale-bearing about another Jew.

You told Reuven what Shimon said about him? 

Mazel tov again!  You have double dipped!  Your remarks degraded a fellow Jew thereby qualifying them as Loshon Hora, even if they were truthful.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Duck!

In GuardYourSpeak: Keep Your Lip Halakhically Zipped, we said that The Beis Din shel Maala….doesn’t give your sins the time of day UNLESS the Satan, in his role as the prosecuting attorney, brings an accusation against you, because without an accusation there can be no court case.  And Loshon Hora is the only thing that can point the Satan’s accusative finger in your direction.

Hashem, in classic mida keneged mida mode, gave the Satan the power to condemn you based on your condemnation of other Jews.

That’s already the good news, because if you thought to assuage either your conscience, your fear of punishment or both by comforting yourself with the thought that the itzy bitzy shtickel of Loshon Hora that you said over after davening would be pareve enough to qualify for the Shemiras HaLoshon version of White Collar criminal treatment, you thought wrong.

As we said in GuardYourSpeak: Don’t Even Think About It, in the introduction to Sefer Chofetz Chaim the Chofetz Chaim lists 17 Laveen (negative mitzvos) and 14 Aseen (positive mitzvos) that one might potentially violate by either speaking or believing loshon hora.  While most of these mitzvos are not about loshon hora per se in their essence, the Chofetz Chaim tells us that when ones crosses the line on loshon hora he may also be violating one or more of these Aseen or Laveen.

And if that doesn’t sufficiently lay a mine field through which those who are loose of tongue must thread their way, the Chofetz Chaim adds 3 Curses from the Torah.

You opened your mouth and let loose with a word or two that touched the third rail of Loshon Hora?

Even if what you said was only one tenth of a percent Loshon Hora of the most pareve variety you’re out of luck because when it comes to Loshon Hora, there ain’t no such thing as pareve.

In the Satan’s hands, the impact of he may also be violating one or more of these Aseen or Laveen in reference to that itzy bitzy shtickel of Loshon Hora that you said over after davening, coalesces into one heck of a serious indictment because it appears that the Holy Chofetz Chaim was actually understating the case when he wrote that he may also be violating one or more of these Aseen or Laveen.

The emes is that there's also no such thing as may also be violating, because the Satan doesn’t walk into court on the strength of maybes.

When you decided to create even the faintest of sound waves that tilted toward Loshon Hora you empowered the Satan to charge you with violating an absolute minimum of 6 out of the 17 Laveen and 5 of the 14 Aseen that the Chofetz Chaim listed in the introduction to his sefer.  And for good measure, you also brought two of the three curses down upon your head.

And that's just the Satan's default position.

A good lawyer would tell you to duck because they’re gonna throw the book at you. 


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Keep Your Lip Halakhically Zipped


Most of us are well aware that the bottom line of Loshon Hora is that the Torah forbids us even to speak the truth about someone if it is denigrating or will cause him damage.

But what if you kept your lip halakhically zipped? Then we are told that the Satan will not have reshus to speak the truth about you. 

Say what?

Rabbi Mendel Kessin does yeoman’s service by laying out for us the mechanics of how Loshon Hora impacts procedurally on the Beis Din shel Maala.

Din (judgment), he says, is a cause and effect concept.  A person does A and gets B in return.  And except for special occasions, Hashem stays out of the picture and lets the Beis Din shel Maala judge us.

The fact is that a Jew can commit multiple sins in the course of a week or even a day, and the Beis Din doesn’t even so much as throw a glance in his direction.

Why not?

It’s not as hefker as it appears because the truth is that this would be considered normal procedure in any criminal court in the United States. After all, what court is going to concern itself with the various crimes that abound within its jurisdiction unless and until they are brought to its attention by the prosecuting attorney representing the governmental authority?

The Beis Din shel Maala works pretty much the same way, and that’s why it doesn’t give your sins the time of day UNLESS the Satan, in his role as the prosecuting attorney, brings an accusation against you, because without an accusation there can be no court case.  And Loshon Hora is the only thing that can point the Satan’s accusative finger in your direction.

Moreover, Rabbi Kessin explains that the entire nature of the prosecution is built solely on Loshon Hora because the Satan is doing nothing less than speaking Loshon Hora about you.  Hashem, in classic mida keneged mida mode, gave the Satan the power to condemn you based on your condemnation of other Jews.

Interestingly, there are also privacy laws in Shomayim but when you speak Loshon Hora they're suspended, and the Satan is given access to what heretofore was legally out of his reach, and as a consequence your file of sins is directly laid before him, and he can now immediately prosecute you.  It’s as if you wrote your own indictment with your tongue for the Satan to sign.  It therefore follows that if you don’t speak Loshon Hora then the Satan can’t speak Loshon Hora about you.

Rabbi Kessin tells us that even if you discipline your tongue you’ll still be judged, however, for whatever it was that you either shouldn’t have done or neglected to do, but the Beis Din shel Maala won’t be able to touch you because if your tongue is squeaky clean Hashem Himself will judge you.  He will give you time to do Teshuva, and even if you mess that up He will spread out, over a long period of time, whatever punishment is coming your way.

And when you’re one with Hashem there are no rules because He’s all Rachamim and can do whatever He wants.

So it all comes down to this.  In relation to the Beis Din shel Maala, you are nothing more than a ventriloquist because the Satan can’t open his mouth unless you first open yours, and give him what to say.  And if you don’t, you stroll out of court past a mute Satan who sits there like a dummy.

And once you’re out of there it’s only between you and Hashem.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Someone Who Wants To Be Purified

The Gemara (Arachin) teaches us that everyone who speaks Loshon Hora amplifies their sins and enlarges them until they reach Shomayim.  Moreover, as we learn in the Tanna De’Vei Eliyahu, the (actual) Loshon Hora spoken by a person ascends to the Heavens, to Hashem’s Holy Throne of Glory.

In his Preface to Sefer Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, who is universally known as the Chofetz Chaim after his sefer, opens our eyes in regard to the atmospheric fallout engendered by the speaking of Loshon Hora.

For starters, he tells us that the reason that the Torah was so strict with the sin of Loshon Hora is because the very speaking of Loshon Hora causes the Satan, who is the Prosecutor against Klal Yisroel, to gain strength and grow in power against us all.  He then brings the Zohar HaKodesh to let us know that there is a force in the world that is nourished by those who speak Loshon Hora.  Its name is Sachsuchah and with the impure power that is his by virtue of all of the Loshon Hora that is spoken, he ascends to the Heavens and spreads death, war, and catastrophe throughout the world.

And that’s only his warm up act.

The Chofetz Chaim goes on to tell us that Loshon Hora triggers the attribute of mida keneged mida (measure for measure) which is one of the modes by which Hashem brings justice to the world.  He once again cites the Zohar HaKodesh to point out that from this impure power/evil spirit that we referenced above evolves other forces of strict unmerciful justice.

You sent a pekel of some serious Loshon Hora in Hashem’s direction?! 

That’s really unfortunate because the bad news is that in the same way that man defiles his speech with language that is forbidden, he also prevents all of his subsequent words of holiness (all of his Torah learning and mitzvahs) from ascending to Heaven.  The conclusion of the Zohar is that all of the good things you have done are suspended in mid-air.

They do not ascend, period.

The Chofetz Chaim then impresses upon us the seriousness of this state of affairs by asking:

How will we merit the coming of Moshiach?

The good news, however is that the Chofetz Chaim has an answer.

At the end of the Preface, after an exhaustive explanation of both the destructiveness of Loshon Hora and the merits of learning his sefer in order to uproot this great sin from our midst, the Chofetz Chaim states that if people study these laws carefully, the Yetzer Hora will not have such great power to control society into committing this sin.  Automatically, if one backs away from this sin, even a little bit, then as time goes by he will wash his hands completely of it because this sin is so caught up in the routine of our everyday lives.  The implication being that if we get a running start vis รก vis the sin of Loshon Hora, in due time we’ll be able to flip the switch on the cruise control.

The Chofetz Chaim then hits the high note as he concludes the Preface by letting us hear that someone who wants to be purified of this sin will have Siyata D’Shemaya (Divine Assistance), and in the merit of both learning these laws and not speaking Loshon Hora, Moshiach will come soon, speedily in our days.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The One Thing


In EmunahSpeak: Nothing but Thoughts, Rabbi Shalom Arush told us in the name of Rebbe Nachman that character traits are nothing but thoughts, with the prevailing thoughts delineating the essence of one’s mindset at any given time.

A person usually speaks what’s on his mind, so if the prevailing thoughts in one’s head are grist for the loshon hora mill is there any wonder as to what’s going to spring forth from between those not so tightly closed lips?

If you don’t think it you can’t say it, and if you do think it make sure it’s squeaky clean.

In GuardYourSpeak: The Clarity of Context, we observed that Whatever you see your neighbor do you also did once upon a time or may well do tomorrow with but a slight variation on the theme, not enough to take it out of whatever aveira was the touchstone between your two neshamos at different points in time.

And on this we asked, (so) why is it that there is a Grand Canyon disconnect between the understanding with which you view your actions and the jaundiced eye that you cast upon the missteps of your friend, sufficient to ignite within you a desire to talk about it?

The answer, of course, was that we are more accepting of ourselves because we possess the clarity that comes from being cognizant of the context from which all of our mistakes flow, which in turn enhances our understanding of all of our shortcomings.

But while context goes a long way in explaining the double standard by which we judge the actions of others vis รก vis our own, it doesn’t go the total route.

It’s a montage with a wide angle focus that can present us with a myriad of facts sufficient to morph what was originally nothing but a bare bones sketch into a high resolution image bursting with detail as to the back story of what it was that caught our eye. That in turn impacts on what motivated the behavior that was weighed by us and found wanting.

But there are other times where the context of a situation is an open book that's in our face, and it may not even be a situation in which we are dwelling on yenem’s faults which, as we said above, will almost invariably lead to loshon hora, while rationalizing our own. Maybe it’s a case where your friend is, in fact, messing up while you’re being a big tzaddik.

There’s someone in your shul that shows up late every morning about two minutes before Borchu, and he doesn’t come rushing in either.  And it just so happens that you’re the first one there.  You don’t know him that well but you do know that there’s nothing doing in his house that would slow him up in the morning.  

The number of kindred scenarios is only circumscribed by the limits of your imagination, and it goes without saying that both your mind and tongue should be focused elsewhere just as it should always be except when there is a legitimate toellis afoot.

We’re talking here about our inability to see past our self imposed delineation of reality.

In the situations where we are find ourselves bereft of proper context, such as those which we spoke about in GuardYourSpeak: The Clarity of Context, our tendency, as we said, is to cast a cold eye on the other guy's doings while rationalizing our own miss-steps. 

But on other occasions, when there is a clear distinction in our favor between our avoda and that of our friend, leaving us nothing to rationalize, it never occurs to us that for all we know, maybe talking during davening is the one thing he does wrong whereas never uttering a word during davening is the one thing we do right.



Tuesday, July 3, 2012

It’s Lowly


Much of the loshon hora that is spoken, be it born of ignorance or willful blindness is fueled by a number of misconceptions as to what is fair game for one’s barbed tongue.  And those misconceptions are themselves rooted in a serious lack of understanding as to what the laws of loshon hora are all about.

Rabbi Yitzchak Berkovits tells us that the prohibition of speaking loshon hora is the Torah’s way of letting us know that, in addition to not being allowed to damage a fellow Jew, we are supposed to be a higher people.  We are aristocratic, and it is therefore beneath our dignity to focus on the negative.  Yidden are supposed to exclusively dwell on the positive.

Our attitude as to what our true focus should be is best illustrated by a vignette from the Chovos Halevovos in which a rabbi was walking through the street with several of his students. They came upon the carcass of a dead dog. "What a vile sight," they remarked. "Look how white its teeth are," responded the rabbi.

But Rabbi Berkovits goes on to punctuate his thought with a qualifier that goes beyond negativity to touch the very essence of what loshon hora is all about.

“Looking for the negative,” he says, “is something lowly even when it causes no harm.  The prohibition is not to do something negative but rather not to do something lowly.”  If there is a constructive purpose in drawing attention to the negative at any given time then by definition it’s not lowly, and it may well be permitted.

So with the bottom line feel for the what of loshon hora firmly in hand, what about the who, as in who does the what apply to?

Everybody.

You can forget about all of the popular misconceptions that hold that the laws of loshon hora don’t apply to certain classes of people because the reality is that there are no free passes and no stealth rides under the radar.  The laws of loshon hora represent a thoroughly egalitarian framework which allows for no exceptions whatsoever in which a Yid would be allowed to freely speak loshon hora without having a positive purpose that would qualify as a proper toellis, irrespective of who was the object of one’s loshon hora.

And no exceptions mean that one can’t freely denigrate non-religious Jews for the same reason that you can’t talk on religious Jews.  It’s lowly.  And it’s no less lowly to speak loshon hora on goyim for no good reason.

One of the fundamental principles of the laws of loshon hora, as laid out by the Chofetz Chaim in his sefer, is that none of the exceptions that would allow someone to speak loshon hora l’toellis (for a legitimate purpose) apply if the one spoken about would suffer undue harm, as that may be defined relative to time and place.

And Rabbi Berkovits makes it clear that this rule even includes apikorsim.

Moreover, while it is most certainly permissible to contrast the differences between a Torah and an anti-Torah lifestyle for educational purposes, you can’t run down stam apikorsim by speaking loshon hora about them without any shmeck of toellis just to have a good time.

Because it’s still lowly.