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Tuesday, 29 December 2015

What's worse than lashon hara?

Daf Yomi Gittin 15

Moshe Rabbeinu can’t take it anymore.  No matter how much he does for the Israelites, they never stop complaining.  He asks the Almighty to provide him with some assistance, and so He instructs Moshe to choose seventy elders.  Our great teacher does so and the spirit of prophecy rests upon the elders.   They begin to prophesy; and two of them, Eldad and Meidad, continue for hours on end, spilling all the deepest, most esoteric secrets of the universe. 

Yehoshua comes running to Moshe to protest the unbelievable, no holds barred revelation.  As soon as he enters, Moshe’s wife mutters under her breath, ‘Good luck to their wives.’  Her sister-in-law Miriam overhears her comment and realizes that Moshe and Tziporah have separated.  She runs off to their brother Aharon and exclaims, ‘Who does he think he is?  We also receive prophecy and yet our marriages are intact!’

The Almighty is not pleased with her behaviour.  For speaking lashon hara (gossip) about her brother, she is smitten with tzaraas (spiritual leprosy).

Concerning a verbal declaration one makes on his deathbed to distribute his possessions, Rabbi Elazar says: whether he is healthy or dangerously ill, real property is acquired by means of money, documentation, or a proprietary act.  Moveable property may only be acquired by means of movement.  But the Sages say: either way, the property may be acquired by means of the verbal declaration alone.
The Sages said to Rabbi Elazar: The mother of Roichel’s children once took ill and said, “Give my brooch to my daughter.” It was worth twelve maneh.   She then died and the sages fulfilled her wishes, demonstrating that a verbal declaration is sufficient.
Rabbi Elazar responded: The children of Roichel?  May their mother bury them!
Rashi explains: Rabbi Elazar was cursing them that they should never be mentioned, let alone brought as a proof in the academy.  According to Rabbi Elazar, they were wicked people who grew thorns in their vineyard, transgressing the prohibition of forbidden grafting.  So why would we derive a lesson from their behaviour?!

There are many different types of lashon hara forbidden by the Torah.   There’s straight up lashon hara, which is gossip.   There’s motzi shem ra, which is slander.  And then there’s rechilus.  Rechilus doesn’t really have a direct translation into English.  It works like this: Let’s say you hear some gossip or slander about your friend; you then go to your friend, and say, ‘Do you know that Bob is saying this and that about you?’

Why is it a separate prohibition?  Why wouldn’t it just be a particular type of lashon hara?  After all, you are simply talking about someone and reporting what they said.  What is unique about rechilus that gives it the status of its own transgression?

A person who talks rechilus is called a roichel, meaning a peddler, since they go around peddling stories between people about other people.  Our Gemara talks about ‘the children of Roichel.’  Who are the children of the roichel? The subject of the lashon hara who is told that people are talking about him.   He is the child of the rechilus.  Who is the mother?  The one who is speaking the rechilus.

What does Rabbi Eliezer declare?  The mother of the rechilus buries the children of the rechilus!   We’re familiar with the dictum of our Sages that lashon hara kills three people – the speaker, the listener, and the subject of the conversation.  All of these people suffer spiritually and sometimes, physically and materially, on account of the lashon hara

I say only sometimes physically and materially, because when the subject of the lashon hara doesn’t know he is being spoken about, ignorance can be bliss.  What you don’t know doesn’t hurt you.  What makes rechilus much more damaging than lashon hara is that now you know what they’re saying about you.  And that knowledge alone can eat away at you and destroy you.  Now you know that people are talking about you; and suddenly, it’s much harder to get anything done, because you’re constantly weighed down by the thought of being the topic of everybody’s gossip.

Some people think that they should tell you when you’re being spoken about.  They believe it’s a mitzvah for you to know!  G-d forbid!  It’s much better not to know and to be able to just get on with your life, blissfully ignorant of all the naysayers and gossipers.  That’s the meaning of the mother burying the children of the roichel.  Knowing that people are talking about you can kill you!

Keep far away from lashon haraRechilus is not only not a mitzvah, it is a killer!  May you merit only pure speech!

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