Monday, February 14, 2011

Seeing the GOOD in others

When I was in High School, I purchased the Chafetz-Chaim-lesson-a-day sefer about lashon hara. Initially, I was a little apprehensive to begin because I wasn't sure if I'd be able to handle the intensity of the halachot. How will I be able to speak and have conversations if so many conversation topics are forbidden?
Well, interestingly enough, the book addressed that concern. The Chafetz Chaim was known for being extremely careful with shmirat halashon. One would think that he was a quiet and timid individual. But surprisingly, that's extremely far from the truth of the matter! The Chafetz Chaim was very talkative and sociable. Studying the laws of Shmirat Halashon/Lashon Hara aren't intended to teach us how to stop speaking; they're meant to teach us how to speak properly.

Now, lashon hara is a HUGE topic. Learning the halachot & refraining from lashon hara isn't just a "nice" thing to do. Shmirat Halashon is one of the main fundamentals of Judaism, and being a careless speaker of lashon hara is equivalent to the three cardinal sins (the Chafetz Chaim actually explains how it's even WORSE than those sins.)
Most Rabbanim would categorize shmirat halashon as one of the most important mitzvot to work on. I clearly can't tackle every single factor in this post, but I'd like to share a story and a couple of lessons that have greatly impacted my life.

The vast majority of frum Jews don't go around bashing people and spreading rumors. It's rare that you'll hear Chani telling her pal Dana about how ugly Rivki is. The yetzer hara knows that frum Jews won't fall for such obvious averot. So instead, he hides himself. He causes conflict. He makes us angry, agitated, impatient, judgemental, etc. And it's at that point that the nisyaon of lashon hara comes into the picture.
When the stinging word; the "diss"; the curse; the "comeback" is on the tip of your tongue! Ooooh and it's such a "good" insult, too. It's davka at THAT point that shmirat halashon becomes a huge challenge (for most people).

But wait a minute. Why is HaShem being so strict?? We live in the 21st century. In America. There're tabloids in almost every store and just about every TV show revolves around gossip and slander. The "in" thing to do is to release our emotions and HELLO?!?! Freedom of Speech!!! If I'm MAD, why can't I express myself?? The answer is very beautiful and deep. Every single Jew has a spark of HaShem; every single Jew has a neshama. That's holy. When you (general you) speak against your fellow Jew, what you're REALLY doing is bad mouthing HaKadosh Baruch Hu. There's a "part" (not literally; but we'll use that word to help us understand) of HaShem in every one us. That's our true essence -- our neshamot. Every single person has holiness and instrinstic worth, so you're not only against G-d's child, but you're also speaking against G-d! On top of that, you're acting as if no one is around to listen -- but G-d is around.
Speech is the main component that separates human beings from animals. We don't let our emotions/desires control us. We let the Torah and our logic control us. Naaseh v'nishma. What If we let emotions/desire control us? Then, we're even lower than the animals because they don't have the power of speech -- we do! Why are we lower, then, and not equivalent to the animals? Because if we use our gift of speech to do harm -- that's even worse than not being able to speak at all. To quote spiderman "with great power comes great responsibility" (that quote never gets old! :D)

My next post, b"H, will be about the koach of tefillah. However, there is a very important prerequisite for successful tefillah.
When I first read the shmirat halashon book, I was shakened. The halachot and divrei Torah were very powerful and life-changing (for the better, of course!)
Two particular teachings really frightened me, though, and changed my life:
1) After one passes away and goes up to Shamayim, all of his mitzvot and sins are shown. He will see averot (and mitzvot) that he NEVER did. He'll begin to freak out. "What?! I ate a cheeseburger at MacDonalds? Stole from Old Navy? Watched TV on Shabbat? HaShem, I never mixed basar v'chalav and never ate an MacDonalds! I never even stepped foot in Old Navy! I didn't even own a TV! How would I watch it on Shabbat??"
What's going on here?
The answer is that whenever he spoke lashon hara about his fellow Jew, he passed on his mitzvot to that Jew, and in return, received that person's sins!

That is a terrifying thought! Think about all the mitzvot we do -- all those times that we made it on time to pray & to minyan; all those times we dressed modestly, kept kosher, kept Shabbat and the Chagim, gave tzdaka, did chessed at the nursing home or hasc or camp simcha, and how about the really rare mitzvot -- like when you wrote a letter in the sefer Torah and/or shiluach haken?? Do we really want to give all of those precious good deeds away JUST because we're agitated and can't control our mouthes?
2) when one speaks lashon hara, his mouth is tainted, and therefore, his tefilliot are considered impure. His tefillot are not accepted easily in Shamayim, and therefore, speaking improperly can severely impact the power and results of your tefillot -- for the worse! (In fact, this is why we recite "Elokai, Netzor Leshoni Mi'Ra'ah u'sfatai medaber mirma" (translation: G-d, stop my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking negatively) after Shemonah Esreh 3x a day.)

I had a teacher in seminary who got married in her late 20s (or early 30s). At the time, she couldn't figure out why she was still single. She grew up religious and worked on herself tremendously throughout the her seminary and college years. She was intelligent and had a good career, good looks, prestigious education/degrees, and she just wanted to marry a holy guy who loved Torah. She couldn't figure it out: WHY AM I STILL SINGLE?!
So, she went to Rebbetzin Kanyevsky for a bracha. Rebbetzin Kanyevsky asked her "have you studied shmirat halashon?"
My teacher responded "yes, twice already."
The Rebbetzin's advice? "Learn it again."

My teacher heeded her advice and guess what?
she is married to a highly knowledgable, charismatic, and respected rabbi who loves her dearly, and they named one of her sons "Yisrael Meir" -- the Chafetz Chaim's name.

Learning has tremendous value. But it must be applied. And once it's applied, then your tefillot can reach the Kiseh Hakavod more smoothly. We must understand and appreciate the incredible power of shmirat halashon!

A friend of mine e-mailed me a powerful letter that Rebbetzin Kanyevsky published:

Dear women and girls! We need you to help us in prayers!
The situation in Eretz Yisrael is very difficult. We are suffering terrible losses, many orphans and widows from different diseases. My husband, The Rabbi, was asked what could be the reason for all these tragedies. The Rabbi opened a Gemara and said it's because of foul language. And how can we correct ourselves? Only by watching what we say.
I read an article written by Rabbi Segal from Manchester who writes:
"Never did I see a person who learned 2 Halachot of Shemirat Halashon every day and didn't see salvation from above, whether in children, in shidduch, good health, parnasa or bringing up the children. He had promised that whoever will learn the Chafetz Hayim, he will be his defender in Heaven. "And we witnessed miracles that happened to people who took upon themselves two Halachot every day and saw Yeshuot.

While I was reading the article a woman walked in crying and said she has a number of aging daughters that are still not married. I showed her the article and immediately she said she will learn two Halachot of Shemirat Halashon every day. Within three days one daughter got engaged.
Two months later her second daughter and ba"h this woman saw many Yeshuot. Like her, hundreds of girls who took upon themselves the Shemirat Halashon got married.

A different story is about a woman who came to us about a year ago with great sorrow saying that she'd been married for 20 years and she didn't have children. I advised her to learn two Halchot every day and B"H she conceived and now has a month old baby boy.

And another story: a few weeks ago a woman came to me, broken and crying, and said that her mother is in the hospitalwith a growing tumor. She asked what she could take upon herself to help. Again, I advised that the entire family learn two Halachot of Shemirat Halashon every day. Two days later she returned and asked of me to tell her story and the miracle that happened. She said that the entire family gathered and decided to learn two Halachot daily and two days later they received a phone call from the hospital saying to come and pick up the mother, the tumor is gone and she is in good health.

I hear many miracles such as these.
And now, we should all take upon ourselves, bli neder, to learn two Halachot of Shemirat Halashon every day and pray with great kavana. A prayer that comes from the heart through a holy mouth is immediately accepted by Boreh-Olam and prevents many troubles and tragedies and brings Yeshua to the world.In the future, each one of us will be shown how many wonderful doings, how many people we saved. And thanks to you, my dear righteous women and girls, we will have the Zechut to bring Mashiah Tzidkeinu soon in our days.
Yehi Ratzon that Hashem will fulfill all of your wishes for the best,
B. Kanyevsky

B"H we should all be successful with giving our fellow brothers and sisters the benefit of the doubt and guarding our mouthes from speaking about anything improper, and b"H all of tefillot should be accepted and answered l'tova! :)


  1. Wow, what a powerful post!! It's something we constantly need to be reminded of. The more we hear and learn about it, the more we will be able to fight our yetzer hara so that we strengthen ourselves in this area!

  2. Netzor l'shoncha merah, tosfasecha mdabaer mirma." The first half refers to lashon hara, which is said behind a person's back. "mirma" is hurtful speech said to another's face.

    So many people seem to think that as long as they are being "honest," they are scot-free. Way off. Hurting another is the worst crime, and should be avoided at all costs. That should be the motivation.

    I just have problems when "nissim" are promoted as reasons to improve oneself. One should not desire nissim - they are meant for those of weak faith. Those who follow Hashem without needing miraculous pay-offs - that is more desirable.

  3. Devorah - exactly! The awareness and reminders really do help. I feel embarrassed that I slip up, even after studying shmirat halashon several times already. But we live and we learn, again and again...until the end.

    English Major - Thank you for explain that line more accurately! When typing the post, I was struggling with my usage of such vague words :)

    I agree. Honestly definitely isn't always the best policy. I've learned that first hand. It's best to avoid lies and stay as close to the emet as possible, but when the only options are incredibly stinging words vs. a "white" lie, then the latter is probably better.

  4. Babylonian Talmud, tractate Taanit, page 7B:

    Rabbi Shimon ben Pazi taught:

    Rain is withheld only because of people who speak slander.


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  5. Minor Tractates of the Talmud, Avot DeRabbi Natan, Chapter 17, Paragraph 1:

    Just as you do not want people to speak badly about your possessions, you should also not want people speak badly about the possessions of your fellow.


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  6. Rashi on Mishlei, chapter 4, verse 24:

    Do not do things that will cause people to talk about you.


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  7. Thank you so much for that inspirational post. I really felt like it spoke to me.

    When is it permitted to say Lashon Hara? Like isn't allowed in specific situation regarding shidduchim (i.e. medical situations, chas v'shalom)?

    Looking forward to your post on Tefilla.

  8. Mr. Cohen - thank you for the divrei Torah :)

    Mizrachigal - thank you so much for reading the post! There are cases when it's not just permitted, but even obligatory, to speak lashon hara l'toelet (for a constructive purpose). However, the halachot are very intricate, and I'd advise learning the shmirat halashon sefer to really understand what you can and can not say. (They apply to a bad business partner, a bad shidduch, a life threatening situation, a person who's going off the derech, etc.)
    I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit that I've learned shmirat halashon several times already, and I STILL don't even know the exact details. I need to keep learning :)

    It's interesting to note, though, that when one is speaking lashon hara l'toelet (for a constructive purpose and according to the halachot) - isn't he still speaking against a fellow Jew, and therefore, against G-d? Isn't that still disgracing the neshama? The answer is no because you're really saving a person's life. To NOT save their life would be considered stand-by murder. Afterall, one who saves one life -- it's as if he saved an entire world.

  9. It is amazing how good the yetzer hara is at his job. We could know full well while we are doing something that it is bad for us yet we do it

    I have a theory. The reason why we have such a difficult time with some averiot is because the yetzer hara knows how important they really are.

    I mean for one, lashon hara. The chafetz chiam in the introduction basically says that shmirat halashon is the key for the geulah.I was thinking, according to the opinions that believe in gilgulim, the only way for us to bring the geulah is to fix what our neshamot messed up before, see the Vilna Gaon on Yonah perek 4. So we know that the sin that caused the destruction of the second beit hamikdash was lashon hara, so the only way for us to do a tikkun is to stop speaking lashon hara.

    On my blog, when back when [ ,] I spoke about the 3 cardinal sins and how they are what gives the yetzer hara the ability to "grow inside us."

    Then comes bitul torah. Well, Rav Chiam Volozhin, in Nefesh HaChiam, explains how learning torah builds spiritual universes and how bitul torah destroys them. Torah is the only thing that keeps this world existing and if the yetzer hara can get us to stop learning it will literally make the world stop turning.

    The more important the mitzvah the greater the challenge, "l'fum tzara agra."

  10. Azriel Tzvi - those are amazing points that you make. So true. And scary because of how true they are.
    If there's any mitzvah to master, it's shmirat halashon.
    The yetzer hara is a malach; we can't fight a malach simply with our own intellect. In order to win the battle with this malach, we need to learn Torah, keep Torah, and of course, have strong emunah in HaKadosh Baruch Hu!

  11. What about if you don't know the person whom Lashon Hara is being spoken about? Like, if a sibling is upset with an argument with a friend (you don't know who) but comes to tell you what happened out of sheer frustration?

    Anyway, on this topic:

    Must Watch.