Friday, April 23, 2010

Rav Sternbuch: Prohibition of Lashon Harah


An Eternal Illness The Dangers of Lashon Hara  

Written by Rabbi Daniel Yaakov Travis based on a derasha from


HaGaon Rav Moshe Sternbuch, shlita Ravad of Yerushalayim

Kosher Speech

The Torah discusses tzara 'as, the punishment for lashon hara, at great length. Tzara 'as would first appear on a person's home, and if he does not repent for his lashon hara at that point, it would spread to his clothes. If he continued in his ways even still, then eventually, his body would be afflicted by it. 

Parshas Tazria follows Parshas Shemini, which deals with the kashrus of animals. Outwardly, there seems to be no connection between these two topics; but is there, in fact, a deeper meaning behind this juxtaposition? 

Rav Yisrael Salanter explained that the Torah does this to teach us that it if one wants to protect the sanctity of his neshamah, it is not sufficient to guard oneself from non­kosher food. One's speech has an even greater affect on his neshamah than what one eats. The outer signs of tzara'as come to show the great internal damage caused through lashon hara. 

When Rav Sternbuch first came into yeshiva in London, Rav Shneider encapsulated Rav Yisrael Salanter's words with the following rule: "You are all extremely careful about the kashrus of the food that goes into your mouth. Try to be equally wary of the kashrus of the words that come out of your mouth." 

While eating non-kosher meat is a serious transgression, bringing non-kosher ideas into one's mind can be even more dangerous. At times, the problems with certain written materials are extremely subtle, and the casual reader might not even realize that his neshamah is being infected. Especially with the advent of internet, when anyone can post any idea that he wants for public view, one must take extreme care with regard to what a person reads that it is clean of lashon hara, apikorsis, and other Torah prohibitions.

Punishment For Lashon Hara

The malach who would speak to the Beis Yosef on a regular basis once told him this: 
"Do not worry about those people who have spoken against you. They haven't harmed you; just the opposite, they have helped you. When someone speaks lashon hara about his friend, his mitzvos get transferred to whomever he spoke about. If people realized this, they would have great joy when they hear that someone spoke about them. They would even give gold or silver coins to the person who spoke about them." (Magid Mesherim, Parshas Vayakel) 
The Chovos Halevavos, Shaar Hachaniyah (Chapter 7) also cites this idea. He adds that when a person who speaks lashon hara gets to shamayim, he will find that he is accredited with many transgressions that he does not remember doing. When he asks about them, he will be told that they were taken from the individuals that he spoke lashon hara about, and added to his record.
The Chovos Halevavos cites a story of a chasid whom someone spoke lashon hara about. When the chasid found this out, he sent the speaker a lavish gift consisting of the choicest fruit of that land with the following note: "You were kind enough to give me your mitzvos and take away my aveiros. I am sending you a small token of my appreciation. " 

How can we understand why a person loses all of his Torah and mitzvos by speaking lashon hara? When a person speaks badly about someone else, this creates prosecuting angels against his friend. Exchanging the mitzvos of the speaker for the aveiros of the one he spoke about helps rectify the spiritual damage that has been caused. 

When the subject of the lashon hara gets all of the mitzvos of the person who spoke about him, his reputation in shamayim is exponentially improved. Similarly, by unloading his transgressions onto the person who spoke about him, he is now considered a tzadik. These two actions counter the damage caused by the prosecuting angels, for with all of his mitzvos and lack of aveiros, they can no longer speak badly about him. 

Based on this, the Chasam Sofer (in a derasha for Shavuos) explains what Chazal mean by their statement that when someone becomes a rav, all of his transgressions are forgiven. The reason for this is that after a person gets a position as a rav, many people will speak lashon hara about him. His aveiros will be placed onto all of the people who spoke about him. 

The Chafetz Chaim hints to this concept in the sefer Shemiras Halashon in Shaar Hazechira (Chapter 7). Since this is such a crucial deterrent to prevent someone from speaking lashon hara, why didn't the Chafetz Chaim make a more open reference to the fact that one loses all of his mitzvos ifhe speaks lashon hara? 

Rav Moshe Shneider once asked the Chofetz Chaim why he did not write what the Rambam says, that someone who speaks lashon hara does not have a place in the World to Come. The Chofetz Chaim replied that he could not give people such a blow. Rav Shneider understood that if the Chofetz Chaim would write that speaking lashon hara causes one to lose his portion in the next world, people would give up hope and refrain from putting effort into learning Torah and performing mitzvos. 

This rule is especially applicable to the internet. If someone posts lashon hara about someone else, this could be seen by countless individuals, and the extent of the damage is enormous. Especially when the lashon hara is about rabbanim, one could lose his entire olam habah because of his transgression.

Asking Forgiveness 
The Chafetz Chaim writes, in the sefer that became his namesake, that if a person speaks lashon hara about his friend, he must go and tell him about it in order to get  mechila from him (4: 12). This is a very difficult halacha to follow. Hearing that someone spoke lashon hara about you is extremely distressing. 

Rav Yisrael Salanter would not write an approbation for the sefer Chafetz Chaim because of this psak. Rav Yisrael ruled that instead, a person should ask a general forgiveness from the person he spoke about, and this is sufficient. Rav Sternbuch once received a letter from Rav Dessler praising this ruling of Rav Yisrael Salanter's. 

Although there is a dispute whether one must ask forgiveness for specific lashon hara that was spoken, everyone agrees that one must ask for some form of mechila from the subject of the negative speech. The Gemara in Yuma 87a  relates the story of a butcher who slandered Rav and didn't come to ask him forgiveness. Erev Yom Kippur, Rav went to speak to his butcher in order to give him the opportunity to ask mechila. 

The butcher did not take the opportunity and did not ask Rav forgiveness for his slander. After this incident, the butcher was cutting bones, and hurt himself, and this injury eventually caused his death. 

Seemingly, Rav could have just declared privately that he forgave the butcher, and did not have to travel and speak to him. From here we see that one must get a personal forgiveness from the subject of the lashon hara. Since it is nearly impossible to keep track of everyone that we speak about, we should make great efforts to avoid speaking lashon hara. 

While a person once had to leave his house if he wanted to speak lashon hara en masse, today with the internet and email.vthings have changed drastically. In a few minutes, a person could spread the worst lashon hara to the four comers of the globe. A person should take great care to think about what he writes, and if possible, have a rav look it over before distributing it to a large number of people. 

(Rabbi Travis is Rosh Kollel of Kollel Toras Chaim in Yerushalayim and is the author of Shaylos U'Teshuvos Toras Chaim and "Praying With Joy - A Daily Tefilla Companion" a practical daily guide to improving one's prayers, available from F eldheim Publishers. Rav Sternbuch's weekly shiurim on the parasha are now available as a sefer entitled "A Voice in the Darkness". For more information about his work contact dytravis@actcom.com.)

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