Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Noach
The Chofetz Chaim focused his rabbinical career on helping us speak better to each other. He wrote extensively about “Lashon Harah – evil speech.” In our American world, slander is the act of telling lies. We see it all the time, and unfortunately, if you are a celebrity, the law is that lies are fair game. I am not sure why one’s fame makes it ok, but we see people taking advantage of that legal loophole to lie about others all the time. Judaism takes the matter one step deeper.
Even if one tells the truth, if it is gratuitously hurtful, it is slander. Did we really need to be the tenth person to point out someone’s failures to him? Do we really feel better because we could tell someone that his/her hair is a mess? How is it that jumping on the bandwagon of gossip makes us feel more secure? Using someone else’s infirmities against them, does that make us stronger? These are the challenges we face daily. Even at the other end of the spectrum, what do we gain by embarrassing someone with too much praise? We read in the Book of Proverbs, “Death and life are in the power [literally, hand] of the tongue.” (18:21) Evil speech is more grievous than spilling blood, for one who kills only kills one soul, and the one who speaks Lashon Hara kills three: the speaker, the hearer, and the target [of the speech]. (Midrash Tehillim, Psalm 52). Effectively, our tradition teaches that humiliating someone is worse than killing him. He has to live in the shame – and at the same time, we damage lots more lives in the process.
Imagine a world wherein everyone wanted to commune with only the best in each other? What would our neighborhoods look like if every member sought to focus on each other’s goodness and not on their frailties, on his/her own value not as a competition with that of his neighbor? Of course, this would be the Messianic Age – the age of peace.
Many argue that this peace is only a dream; it cannot happen with this state of humanity in which we find ourselves. However, the Bible does provide us with an example of its reality in the most misread story of the Tower of Babel. We are so stuck in a world driven by jockeying for power, and Lashon Hara that we taint even this story of perfect faith.
Everyone felt so blessed that they wanted to get as close to God as possible. It was not enough that their hearts felt divinity; they wanted to stand in the presence of God. They devoted their time and energy to build the ziggurat that could bring them closer to the heavens. Understanding the power of this love, God took them to the corners of the Earth, gave them the ability to share this love in every language of humanity, and hoped that the whole world would respond.
Most certainly, humanity has not followed this path. The physical and spiritual wars that we wage for power only demonstrate our own insecurities. Why am I better only if you are less? Why is my candidate better if I can call you names? How can we speak of humanity in a world that behaves so inhumanely?
Pirke Avot teaches us that in a world where no one behaves humanely, our job is to be humane. The Chofetz Chaim taught us, “You can’t drive away the darkness with sticks or weapons. The only way is to light a candle and the darkness will disappear by itself. Our candle is the Torah (absolute love).” Dr. Martin Luther King taught it, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” Perhaps it is time to work together to rebuild that ziggurat, and in working together, we might learn to appreciate each other better. I do believe that each of us wants a better world. I also believe that we abdicated our vision of making that happen to people garnering power at our expense. If we begin listening to each other, we can then begin to hold them accountable. That would be the greatest step toward peace. It begins with how we respond to each other.