Lashon Hara (evil talk, or evil tongue)

Shalom, friends. Over on my Drash blog that I also just started (https://drashesbymordekhi.home.blog/), the blog M’tzora touched on the topic of lashon hara. Here is a further look. Some thoughts are from a paper I had put together last year for a Bible Study I led on James (Ya’akov, or Jacob in Hebraic understanding), some thoughts came after further study.

Bulleted points below are taken primarily from the teachings of Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan, known as The Chofetz Chaim, 1839-1933. He wrote a well-known Judaic book known as Sefer Chofetz Chaim (pr: Khafetz Khaim). Chofetz Chaim in Hebrew means “desirer of life;” his inspiration was from Psalm 34:13(12), “Who is the man who desires life….” Rabbi Kagan’s book is an extensive study on evil talk, taken from Torah, Talmud, and other older Jewish sources, along with his own wisdom.

The Chofetz Chaim defined lashon hara as “information which is either derogatory or potentially harmful to another individual, even if it will not cause that person any harm. To focus on the shortcomings of another person is wrong. A statement that could potentially bring harm to someone – be it financial, physical, psychological, or otherwise – is lashon hara, even if the information is not negative.” This page gives only a snippet from his teachings, and are not in any particular order.

  • It is forbidden to say that someone possesses a negative character trait, such as being quick-tempered, argumentative, stingy, arrogant, etc.
  • To speak derogatorily of one’s fellow is to degrade one’s own status as a creation in God’s image.
  • When someone commits murder, he kills a single soul; but one who speaks lashon hara destroys three: the subject of his words, his listener, and himself.
  • Speaking lashon hara is akin to denial of belief in God.
  • Lashon hara is not limited to speech. Included in all this prohibition is communication of derogatory or harmful information through any means. Writing it, using code, sign or body language (cynically smiling, rolling the eyes, etc) that communicates something negative or harmful is forbidden.
  • If lashon hara is spoken without mentioning names, yet if someone else can figure out who it is, that is prohibited.
  • The primary prohibition against speaking lashon hara is from Lev 19:16, “You shall not go about as a slanderer (gossipmonger, talebearer) among your people…Generally speaking, gossipmongers are eager to sell their ‘wares’ to anyone who is willing to listen and at any time, even in the synagogue while prayers are in progress…while Kaddish is being recited…during the Shemoneh Esray… and even while Torah is being read…in this way, one is guilty of desecrating HaShem’s Name in public.”
  • It is forbidden to speak lashon hara to gain popularity or win friendship.
  • People who speak lashon hara tend to rationalize their sinful behavior with the contention that the listener wanted to hear the gossip and that he obviously enjoyed it.
  • It is forbidden to speak lashon hara about children…or to way or write something about a child that potentially could prove harmful to him.
  • It is forbidden to publicize a person’s hospitality or generosity if this will cause the insincere and undeserving to take advantage of the person.

Although not “Christian” or even “Messianic” in origination, these thoughts present some good ideals for living a righteous life. After all, they are based upon Holy Scripture. And the “New Testament (B’rit Hadashah, Besekh)” is certainly not silent on the subject. Here’s an example, from Ya’akov/Jacob/James 3:5-10 (from the CJB):

5) “So too the tongue is a tiny part of the body, yet it boasts great things. See how a little fire sets a whole forest ablaze!

6) Yes, the tongue is a fire, a world of wickedness. The tongue is so placed in our body that it defiles every part of it, setting ablaze the whole of our life; and it is set on fire by Gei-Hinnom itself.

7) For people have tamed and continue to tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures;

8) but the tongue no one can tame — it is an unstable and evil thing, full of death-dealing poison!

9) With it we bless Adonai, the Father; and with it we curse people, who were made in the image of God.

10) Out of the same mouth come blessing and cursing! Brothers, it isn’t right for things to be this way.

There is a Hebrew word found many times in Scripture – “sh’ma,” which means to listen, but more than that, to listen and obey, or act upon what you hear. A most prominent use is in Deuteronomy 6:4-9, a portion that is known as The Sh’ma. This passage has been called “the pledge of allegiance” of Jewish people to HaShem, as an observant Jew recites it at least twice a day. Vs 4 says, “Sh’ma, Yisra’el! Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad [Hear, Isra’el! Adonai our God, Adonai is one]….” Israel was not only commanded to hear that statement, they were to take it to heart, to act upon it, to live by it. Hebraic thought stresses physical action; Grecian and Western thought stresses mental activity.

I believe that basic human nature – at least in our western society – tends to speak first, then think. Listening tends to come in third place. That’s something we can all work on. That’s why people write quotes like this one I found online:

“Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity. The greatest problem with communication is we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply. When we listen with curiosity, we don’t listen with the intent to reply. We listen for what’s behind the words.”
― Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart

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