Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Lashon Hara

At Bible Study last Wednesday, we talked about the power of naming things, the power of writing down the gifts we have been give. Ann Voskamp mentions how the first job of Adam was to name the animals. We are a people who count and name and label. How powerful it is when the things we name and label and count are gifts, gratitudes, thanks... I was reminded of the Hebrew term "Lashon Hara," or "evil language," as a kind of inverse of speaking gratitude.

Leviticus 19:16 says, "Do not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord." Here is the scripture from the Torah that is most frequently cited against Lashon Hara, a scripture that brings lashon hara right up against LIFE. Words have the power of life and, conversely, the power of death. Consequently, the Jewish rabbis have written numerous hedge laws to prevent people from accidentally participating in lashon hara, and the Jewish people acknowledge the harm that has been done in the world through lashon hara. For example (from
  • The Midrash tells us that the snake slandered G‑d to Eve when convincing her to eat of the Tree of Knowledge.
  • Joseph spoke negatively to his father, Jacob, about his brothers, causing them to hate him. This led to their selling him, and ultimately caused the Egyptian exile.
 When Miriam spoke negatively about her brother, Moses, she was rebuked by G‑d and afflicted with the skin disease.
The spies who were sent soon afterwards to Israel did not take a lesson from this story, and they too spoke negatively—about the land of Israel. The result was that the Israelites of that generation all died in the desert. 
Another fabulous article from Judaism 101 tells us these things about lashon hara:
The Talmud tells that the tongue is an instrument so dangerous that it must be kept hidden from view, behind two protective walls (the mouth and teeth) to prevent its misuse. 
The person who listens to gossip is even worse than the person who tells it, because no harm could be done by gossip if no one listened to it. It has been said that lashon ha-ra (disparaging speech) kills three: the person who speaks it, the person who hears it, and the person about whom it is told.
 An article at describes the 3 people hurt by lashon hara in this way:

  • The person speaking: Although you briefly become the center of attention when you dish out a juicy piece of gossip, in the long run people start mistrusting you. ...
  • The person spoken about: The person under discussion is, of course, being killed in everyone's eyes. Whether the information is true or false, it is hard to take back defamatory words already spoken and undo the character assassination already committed. ...
  • The person spoken to:  ...the Talmud says that listening to lashon hara is even worse than speaking it; the person had the power to stop it and didn't. Now the transgression is complete.
We see, in these articles, how words have changed the history of the Jewish people...and the world (Adam & Eve, Joseph, Miriam, the spies that went out ahead into the promised land...)  How powerful words can be. And how easy it is to use them. It's so much more difficult to commit other acts, either positive or negative, toward others. It's much harder to DO something. But it's so easy to SPEAK something.

So easy to speak something...and yet so difficult sometimes. Why does it sometimes seem like it's easier to "name" the difficult things, the problems, the hurts, the frustrations, the pain, lashon hara? Why must we train ourselves in order to name the gifts, the positive things, the gratitude, the thanksgiving, eucharisteo?

Yet, we must. We must train ourselves to name our gifts. In naming them, we draw attention to them and to the One who gave them. In naming them, we affect those three people from the quote above: the person speaking, the person spoken about, and the person spoken to. We give life, rather than speaking against it.

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