26 Apr 2018 Parshas Kedoshim: Holy People, Holy Speech
In Parshas Kedoshim, the second of this week’s double parshios (Achrei Mos-Kedoshim), we are commanded to be a holy people, for G-d is Holy (Vayikra 19:2).
As is well known, many of the commands and directives in the parsha focus on mitzvos bein adam l’chavairo (laws that govern interaction between man and fellow man). These mitzvos include: do not curse a deaf person, do not show favor in judgment, leave a corner of your field for the poor person, love the convert as yourself, love your fellow as yourself, do not steal, do not lie, give honor to an older person, do not place a stumbling block before a blind person… and so on and so forth.
Amongst the myriad of relevant commands in the parsha is the directive of: לֹא-תֵלֵךְ רָכִיל בְּעַמֶּיךָ – You shall not be a gossipmonger amongst your people… I am Hashem (19:16 and see Rashi there).
R’ S. R. Hirsch writes (Vayikra 19:16), “A רָכִיל is a peddler who goes from house to house, bringing everyone the wares that he needs… A רָכִיל is a ‘news peddler’ – who goes from person to person and from house to house, prying into the affairs of one person and telling of them to another. Of such a talebearer, the Torah says: לֹא-תֵלֵךְ רָכִיל בְּעַמֶּיךָ. Do not reveal things about your fellow man that are not known, unless you are certain that he would like you to do so…
“We are obligated to preserve the dignity of every person and to respect his privacy; it is our duty to watch our words when we are speaking of others. It is impossible to know how far-reaching may be the effects of gossiping about the private affairs of others. Where rechilus abounds, one can trust no friend, rely on no intimate; everyone must be guarded in speech and keep his private matters strictly to himself.
“A special type of rechilus that is an even graver sin is lashon harah, slander. A slanderer is one who denigrates the character and actions of another – even if what he says of his is true. The Sages count lashon harah among the gravest of all sins.”
The Ba’al HaTurim teaches (19:16), רכיל מלא יו”ד שהרכיל עובר בי’ הדברות – the word רָכִיל (gossiper) is written ‘full’, i.e.: with the letter yud, to teach you that one who gossips and speaks slanderous speech about his fellow, it is as if he transgressed the Aseres Ha’Dibros (all Ten Commandments) (the numeric value of the letter ‘yud’ is 10).
Imagine that! What’s one word of gossip, we may rationalize, one joke at the expense of my friend’s well-being, we may say, one comment in passing, we may think, one text or what’s app that’s negative about another person, one note that brings shame to my neighbor, one email that’s sent as ‘reply all’ that’s condescending of my colleague… Surely it’s not as bad as transgressing any one of the Ten Commandments, such as: worshipping gods of others, transgressing Shabbos, failing to honor one’s parents, committing adultery, kidnapping, or murder!
In fact, the Ba’al Ha’Turim teaches, being a רָכִיל בְּעַמֶּיךָ, and speaking lashon harah – slanderous, demeaning, humiliating, haughty, shameful, wicked speech – is comparable to transgressing ALL of the Aseres Ha’Dibros!
It is not for naught that the pasuk tells us: מָוֶת וְחַיִּים, בְּיַד-לָשׁוֹן – death and life are in the hands of the tongue (Mishlei 18:21).
Furthermore, the Sages teach us: כָּל יָמַי גָּדַלְתִּי בֵין הַחֲכָמִים, וְלֹא מָצָאתִי לַגּוּף טוֹב אֶלָּא שְׁתִיקָה, R’ Shimon ben Gamliel said: All my days I grew up amongst the Sages, and I found nothing better for the body than silence (Avos 1:17).
Words that leave our mouths (or our phones via what’s app, texts or social media) are words that are lost forever. And if they are negative and hurtful, and we have caused pain to another by going from (proverbial or literal) house to house gossiping, we would do well to remember (before we speak or hit ‘send’) that with such speech, it is considered as if we transgressed the Aseres Ha’Dibros!
A student once came to the holy Chafetz Chaim, R’ Yisrael Meir Ha’Kohen Kagin of Radin, zt’l, and said, “Rebbi… I gave a lengthy sermon before a congregation of listeners that filled the Shul from wall to wall – and I don’t see that my words have had any particular influence that caused improvement! What, then, is the use (of teaching others)?”
The Chafetz Chaim replied, “We know the Vilna Gaon cites in the name of the Medrash: For every moment that a man controls himself and keeps his mouth silent, he will be privileged (in the ultimate future) to bask in the great light of the Shechina (Divine Glory). All of this for just one minute of silence! Imagine then what will be the reward for preventing an entire large congregation from saying anything destructive for a lengthy period of time (when they were silent during your sermon)! The value of this mitzvah alone cannot be measured! What more can you want?” (The Chafetz Chaim, by R’ M. M. Yoshor, Artscroll, p.79)
Rav Soloveitchik zt’l once commented and said, “If you want to know what lashon harah is, whatever you enjoy when you talk about someone else is lashon harah” (The Rav Thinking Aloud, Holzer, p.190).
Let us strive mightily to use our tremendous gift of koach ha’dibur (power of speech) to sow blessing, peace and ahavas chinam (love of our fellow) amongst our families, friends, neighbors and communities. And in this merit, may Hashem see our efforts and shower us with blessing and peace in return.
בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,