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THE POWER OF SPEECH - LIFE & DEATH ARE IN THE TONGUE
This week’s parsha deals with the illness of spiritual leprosy, which in Biblical times afflicted those who spoke loshon hara. Most people are under the impression that loshon hora connotes gossip - fabrications regarding others, but that is erroneous. All evil, derogatory talk falls under the category of loshon hora. Gossip, spreading rumors, falls under a different heading: motzei shem roh: making up slanderous stories. Our Torah regards the sin of loshon hora as so heinous that those who were guilty of it succumbed to a skin disease known as “tzaraas”. Since this was a spiritual ailment (albeit with physical manifestations), the afflicted had to be brought before Aaron the High Priest or his descendants rather than to a physician for an examination and healing. (Leviticus, 13:12)
The question that must occur to all of us is why, specifically, Aaron the High Priest? What was so special about him that enabled him to examine and cure the individual who spoke loshon hora?
Loshon hora creates divisiveness - it generates animosity and contempt - forces that are antithetic to the harmony of the Jewish people. Aaron the High Priest loved the Jewish people with such intensity that he was able to neutralize those negative forces. It is written in Ethics of the Fathers, I:12, that “Aaron loved peace and pursued peace”. When he saw two people in conflict, he would approach each of them individually and say, “You know, your friend truly regrets this altercation. As a matter of fact, he beseeched me to approach you on his behalf. He loves you and wants to make peace with you.” He would then repeat the very same message to the other party involved and thus make peace. Throughout his life, Aaron was determined to cement ties, to bring harmony and love to fragmented relationships. Thus it was he and his descendants who were best suited to restore love and harmony among our people.
Perhaps now, we can better appreciate the unique blessing that the Kohanim recite prior to pronouncing the Priestly Benediction: “Blessed art Thou O L-rd our G-d who has sanctified us with the holiness of Aaron. That holiness emanates from the total devotion, commitment and love that Aaron had for every Jew. And so, the blessing of the Priest is concluded with “B’ahavah” - :”with love” - for that is the unique hallmark of Aaron and his descendants. Loshon hora, evil talk destroys love between people and Aaron teaches us how to re-establish love between people.
There are those who would justify speaking loshon hora claiming that they are just being honest and forthright and telling the truth. But Aaron taught us that truth must take a back seat when it comes to hurting or putting someone else to shame. Loshon hora is such a serious infraction that there are fourteen positive commandments and seventeen negative commandments regarding it. The great sage, The Chofetz Chaim warned that loshen hora is the most destructive of all sins, for it literally destroys people. Indeed, “life and death are in the tongue”. Let us all take care not to inflict pain or bring sorrow to others through our words. Hurtful words leave deep scars that cannot be erased.
We are now in the days of Sefira and quickly approaching Matan Torah, the holiday of Shavuos, when G-d gave us the Torah, so let us all be extra vigilant in regard to the honor, respect and feelings of others.