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Shabbat Parashat Metzora 5782

Parashat Hashavua: The Historical Root of Lashon Hara

Harav Shaul Yisraeli from Siach Shaul, p. 326-328 (1944)

“This is the ‘Torah’ of the leper” (Vayikra 14:2). The midrash (Vayikra Rabba 16:6) identifies the leper as one who speaks lashon hara and derives from the pasuk that one who speaks lashon hara is like one who violates the entire Chumash. 

If the beginning of the Torah is focused on gemilut chasadim and its end is likewise based on gemilut chasadim (Sota 14a), then the antithesis of the Torah is lashon hara. The first sin came about through the lashon hara of the serpent, who spoke against Hashem. That is the source of the defilement of the world.

Lashon hara is an expression of evil. An evil eye (ayin hara) looks for something or someone who is above it, and upon finding it, poisons the person’s tranquility and does not allow him to enjoy things he could have enjoyed. It whispers the hiss of a snake and steals his Garden of Eden.

When Adam was in the Garden of Eden, he had unlimited indulgences at his beck and call. He had pleasant fragrances, tasty fruit, and lively streams. He was missing nothing. The serpent, representing desire, inserted its venom of impurity and drew attention to the one tree from which Adam could not eat (hinted at by the pasuk, “I made him a little less than G-d” – Tehillim 8:6). That which man was missing became the point at which jealousy could set in and not allow him peace. Then the imagination was mobilized, bringing explanations for why the forbidden is permitted. This process ended the Garden of Eden for Adam, as he destroyed his own paradise. This is the damage of ayin hara – to look for things that are beyond it and use it to make the pure impure and defile all that is good.

The venom of anti-Semitism also begins with ayin hara and lashon hara. The gemara (Megilla 13b) says that no one knew how to speak lashon hara like Haman, who had the ayin hara’s warped view of “all of this (riches and unprecedented power) is not worth it for me” (Esther 5:13) if there is a Jew who was not willing to bow down to him. He needed, in such a case, to destroy all that made him feel lacking.

This week, during a trial on anti-Semitism, one of the defendants declared in court: “We are here to defend the freedom we are promised. No one before has allowed opposition to anti-Semitism to curtail the freedom of expression.” They ignore that abuse of freedom of expression is a sign of a decadent spirit that sees evil in that which is different from it. The poison of jealousy first shows expression with speech and then continues with uncontrolled satanic actions without embarrassment.

By accepting the Torah, i.e., the yoke of the Heavenly Kingdom, a good eye was put back into the human genome. This was the antidote to the venom of the serpent (Shabbat 146a). When Rabbi Akiva’s students died because they did not treat each other with respect (Yevamot 62b), they lacked recognition of what a friend is. This is because they lacked recognition of Hashem’s honor. A person does not speak lashon hara until he denies Hashem (Devarim Rabba 6:14). Demanding absolute freedom to say what one wants means denying responsibility; freedom must be connected to accepting Torah.

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