Monday, April 7, 2014

Loshon HaRa- Why is it so bad if it's true?

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yoachai said, 'if I were alive at Mount Sinai I would request from God that he create man with two mouths, one for Torah and one for all his other needs.'

Later he changed his mind and said, 'The world can barely survive from all the lashon hara produced by man's one mouth, how much more so if he had two?'.”

A cousin recently complimented me. I replied with a self-effacing denial. When he accused me of speaking Loshon HaRa about myself, I replied that it might be Loshon HaRa, but it was certainly not Motzi Shem Ra (slander). Being that I have been trying to work on myself, as well as the fact that a few recent public examples of Loshon HaRa spoken about people whom I respect, caused me pain, I have been thinking about how to speak less Loshon Hara.

The question that is commonly asked is a good one. Why is it wrong to speak Loshon Hara, if what is said is true? I would like to offer three possible answers to that question.

Incomplete Picture

The gemara in the last perek of Pesachim (113b) tells the story of Tuvya and Zigud. Tuvya committed some sort of sin (the implication is that it was in the sexual realm) and Zigud testified to Rav Papa that he had witnesses the sin. Rav Papa promptly ordered that Zigud receive lashes. When Zigud protested, Rav Papa explained that by testifying as a lone witness (rather than as apart of a minimum of two witnesses as the Torah requires), Zigud accomplished nothing other than besmirching the name of Tuvya.

Both in the realm of testimony as well as the role of a judge, one person has no power in Jewish law (with few exceptions that do not disprove my point). The implication seems to be that no matter how much one person might think they know the whole story, it is impossible that they do. There is only one Solitary Judge in the world, and we as humans have no ability, nor any right to think we can serve as the sole judge, jury and executioner.

Painting an incomplete picture.

One might protest and claim that in this particular case, they do know the whole story. If so, why not share it?

I have made my share of mistakes and had moments which, if used to paint a picture of who I am, would make for a less than stunning image. Just as I recognize that those unfortunate and disappointing moments do not show the whole picture of who I am, even if I have seen someone commit a heinous act, it is, at best, part of who the person is, and not the entirety of who the person is. I have heard it said that this is one way to read the mishna in Avos which says “Havei Dan es KOL HaAdam L'Kaf Zechus”. While many translate that phrase as “Judge each person favorably”, it can be read as “Judge the entirety of a person favorably”. One action does not make for a bad person.

Harming yourself

If neither of the previous explanations help, there is a third approach which might. There is a well known statement of Chazal that speaking Loshon Hara harms three people; the one about whom it is spoke, the speaker and the one who receives it. While it is clear how speaking poorly of someone hurts that person, by how does speaking negatively about someone, or accepting that report cause harm? The answer is obvious, but (therefore?) worth internalizing. Being negative is corrosive. I have seen it in my own life. As I have imperfectly worked on being less negative and cynical, I have seen how I have changed. If for no other reason than because it hurts you, letting go of negativity, in the form of Loshon HaRa and otherwise, is a must.

May we merit to see the good in others, including ourselves.

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