PART 1: THE POWER OF LOSHON HORA ON A PERSONAL LEVEL
Rabbi Shimon Kessin
Why is the sin of Loshon Hora so severe?
There are 613 mitzvos in the Torah. Some are considered more severe than others. For example, the observance of Shabbos is deemed a very severe obligation ("chumra d'shabbos"). We know this from the fact that a Jew who intentionally violates the Shabbos may merit the death penalty according to Torah law. Other sins that are considered to be in the same category of severity include idolatry and homicide. There are other sins, however, that are considered to be in a lesser category since they carry lighter consequences such as malkos (lashes) or financial compensation. These include, for example, certain kashrus violations etc. Compared to these lesser categories, the violation of Loshon Hora, slander, against a fellow Jew is considered even less severe in its Torah consequences. It does not incur the death penalty, excision (kores a shortened life span) or even lashes. Yet, when Chazal speak of it, they refer to it in the most severe manner, attributing to its transgressor, the most serious consequences. Why? What makes this commandment so unique amongst all the others?
Shmiras Haloshon leads to a long and good life
The Torah refers to the sin of Loshon Hora and the consequences of its restraint in at least two places. Let us examine what it says in each of these places.
From the first verse we are actually shown two consequences from guarding our speech. From the first part of the verse we see the consequence of life. This literally means a long life. What is considered a long life? It is a life enduring into the eighties and even into the nineties. From the second part of the verse we see the consequence of a good life, a full life with a sound mind and a healthy body. There is no advantage to living a long life if one is sick mentally or physically and therefore requires custodial or constant medical care. The Torah therefore states that guarding one's speech (Shmiras Haloshon) leads to both quantitative (long life) and qualitative (healthy life) blessings.
Shmiras Haloshon prevents troubles
From this verse we see a third consequence from guarding our speech. There is a substantial reduction in the aggravations and troubles that life can bring us. We all know the feelings and anguish that troubles can bring. Things we want to accomplish are rarely successful. Stresses we have are often difficult to remove. Yet, the Torah clearly states that what we say about our fellow Jew can have a profound effect on the amount of troubles we will have to encounter.
From these verses, we clearly see three consequences that directly result from guarding our speech about fellow Jews. They are:
- A long life of many years
- A good life where we remain healthy in mind and body and where we are fundamentally, successful in what we do
- A substantial diminishment of the aggravations and troubles that can potentially afflict us in our lives.
SHMIRAS HALOSHON ALLOWS US TO CONTROL THE LEVEL OF SUCCESS IN OUR LIVES
What do these blessings really mean? If we consider the matter we come to an amazing realization. These three consequences are nothing less than the promise of a successful life. Hashem is actually revealing to us the control lever or button of a successful life! All of us, with all our differences, are actually seeking the same thing the ability to succeed. Some people want to succeed in their livelihood, others to find an appropriate spouse or, if married, to have children. Still others want to live long and healthy lives. Yet, whatever the goal, we want to succeed in it, to see it actually happen. Is there a way to control this? Can we find some method that truly allows us to succeed, time after time, in whatever we choose to do? From these verses we see that the answer is a resounding YES! Hashem tells us through these verses that the way we speak about a fellow Jew is the single most important factor that determines if we will succeed or fail in our lives. No other commandment in the Torah is connected to such a promise. Even the commandment of honoring one's parents which is connected to the idea of a long life8 is, nevertheless, not necessarily connected to the idea of a life with few troubles and misfortunes. Only the commandment regarding Loshon Hora has such a power to determine the length and quality of our lives.
What does this mean for us? The answer is clear. It means that the way our destiny unfolds is in our hands. After the earthly passing of each person, he or she will have to appear before Hashem, the true judge, and answer for the actions he or she committed in their earthly life. There are those people who will complain to Hashem and ask, "why did I not live such a long life?" To this Hashem will say, "Why do you complain to me. I revealed to you the control lever that determines how long you will live. Why did you not heed it? Why weren't you careful about your Loshon Hora?" There are other people who will bitterly complain, "Why was my life not a good one?" To this Hashem will say, "Why do you complain? You could have made your life much better so that it could be filled with many more successes. You chose however, to ignore the importance of Loshon Hora and you suffered the consequences." Finally, there are those who will bitterly complain, "Why was my life so beset with troubles? Why did I have to suffer so much?" To this Hashem will say, "I gave you the power to minimize your sufferings. You have only yourself to blame." A troubling scenario! Clearly then, we will be unable to complain to Hashem since, in truth, we had the power to control and to determine the quantity and quality of our lives.
From everything that has been said until now, we see that the power of speech can enormously influence our personal lives. But where does this power come from? Why is the sin of Loshon Hora so unique amongst all the commandments that our Chazal warned us so strongly against it? The answer to these questions is critical for only when we truly understand the uniqueness of this commandment will we begin to take it seriously and treat it with the fear and respect that it so richly deserves.