The Sin of Slander & Gossip (Lashon hara)
In this week’s Torah parashah of Metzora we learn about the cleansing from skin disease (צָּרַעַת, tzara’at), a spiritual sickness caused by “lashon hara” an “evil tongue” of slander or gossip.
In this article we share further about the laws of lashon hara and we discuss the harmful effects of negative speech and slander which we see so rampant even now in the spiritual attacks currently being hurled against God’s people.
What is Lashon Hara?
The Hebrew term lashon hara (or loshon hora) (Hebrew לשון הרע; “evil tongue”) is the halakhic term for derogatory speech about another person. Lashon hara differs from defamation in that its focus is on the use of true speech for a wrongful purpose, rather than falsehood and harm arising. Speech is considered to be lashon hara if it says something negative about a person or party, is not previously known to the public, is not seriously intended to correct or improve a negative situation, and is true. Statements that fit this description are considered to be lashon hara, regardless of the method of communication that is used, whether it is through face-to-face conversation, a letter, telephone, or email, or even body language.
In Hilchot Deot 7:5, Maimonides supplies a litmus test for determining whether something is or isn’t Lashon Hara: Anything which, if it would be publicized, would cause the subject physical or monetary damage, or would cause him anguish or fear, is Lashon Hara.
Lashon hara (lit. “evil tongue”) is considered to be a very serious sin in the Jewish tradition. The communicator of Lashon Hara (and rechilut) violates the prohibition of “Lo telech rachil b’ameicha (Leviticus 19:16).”
By contrast, hotzaat shem ra (“spreading a bad name”), also called hotzaat diba, or motzi shem ra (lit. “putting out a bad name”) consists of untrue remarks, and is best translated as “slander” or “defamation”. Hotzaat shem ra is worse, and consequentially an even graver sin, than lashon hara.
You shall not go around as a gossipmonger —Leviticus
Someone might say, “you know something that so-and-so has done” but even non-incriminating, not even objectionable information we are forbidden to share to protect ourselves from transgressing and committing any form of lashon hara as even repeating innocuous gossip is called rechilut—and still often causes unforeseen negative consequences.
Evil gossip kills three: the one who says it, the one who listens, and the subject of the gossip — Our Jewish Sages
Speaking about another’s indiscretion or shortcoming is even worse; this is called lashon hara (the evil tongue). Unfounded libelous gossip (motzi shem ra) is even worse.
So what do you do when someone trying to sell you some juicy information? Politely excuse yourself, or change the subject… and if they insist we are commanded to walk away or stop talking to them.
We are not to listen to or speak negativity about another
Words carry the potential of causing catastrophic harm, often tearing asunder families and friendships. Thankfully, lashon hara awareness has increased in past decades, largely influenced by the passionate writings of the Chafetz Chaim (Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan) on the topic.
It is also forbidden to listen to lashon hara. Someone trying to sell you some juicy information? Politely excuse yourself, or change the subject. Better yet, explain why you are not interested in listening.
Sometimes, even a “compliment” can have a negative connotation. Example: “My neighbor is a great chef! The aroma of barbecued steak wafts into my yard every night!” Is this also a veiled critique of a spendthrift lifestyle?
“Oh, don’t ask; I’d rather not talk about Mark . . .” Lashon hara wasn’t said—but it was implied!
Note: We are obligated to notify a person of another’s conspiracy against him. We are also required to share information with any person in a position to help the offending person. For example, you certainly should inform parents if their child is hanging out with the wrong crowd.
The Power of the Tongue
Exerting self-control over our speech is admirable. Even greater is the ability to truly respect and love every person, automatically eradicating the negative and losing the desire to share bad information about them.
The destructive power of negative speech is surpassed only by the beneficial power of positive speech. Praising and speaking positively about our fellows benefits ourselves, the person being praised and all of society.
The Serious Implications from Scripture
As the anointing for the priesthood was the same was the same Torah prescription for the healing of the spiritual disease caused by the evil tongue, it is clear that Heavenly Father is telling us that anyone engaged in slander, gossip or negative speech against another will not be a part of the Kingdom priesthood. Furthermore, Rabbi Shaul in 1 Cor. 6:9-10 teaches that slanderers and gossips will not even enter the Kingdom of Heaven!
Yeshua’s brother Ya’akov wrote,
Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.
– James 1:26
Let us repent and return to only using our tongues as co-creators of life giving speech uplifting each other and to share Abba’s Torah truths to others in the spirit of His life-giving ahavah love!
Therefore, let us strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness (in thought, word and deed) without which no one will see the Lord. – 1 Timothy 1:9
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