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Shabbat Parashat Achare Mot- Kedoshim| 5767
The National Tongue
We can be proud that one of our era’s “more popular” mitzvot is the matter of lashon hara, not speaking negatively about one’s friend. Of the many references to this mitzva, which the Chafetz Chayim compiled in his seforim, the most direct is in Parashat Kedoshim: “Lo telech rachil b’amecha” (Vayikra 19:16). The commentaries hammer out exactly what telech rachil means. Rashi connects rachil to the similar root for spying. Indeed, one who tells lashon hara first goes around accumulating information to spread. The Ramban explains rachil from its own root, which means a peddler. According to him, the movement implied by telech refers to the movement of the information between people rather than going to gather information.
Although the commentaries put most effort into explaining telech rachil, much can be learned from the word, b’amecha, which translates, in your nation. The Netziv claims that it delineates to whom the commandment applies, to our nation. This explanation gives the word a technical function, providing information about the commandment’s parameters, but not defining its essence. We may note that when the Torah wants to teach that limitation, it usually uses reacha or amitecha, your friend or compatriot. Two p’sukim after this one the Torah refers to the commandment applying to “b’nei amecha,” the people of your nation, which seems to be a more precise usage.
A lot can be learned from the Ramban’s understanding of b’amecha. First, let us see a little background. The gemara (Arachin 16a), in a related context within the laws of lashon hara, coins a phrase, “chavrach chavra it lei,” your friend has a friend. This illustrates that the “juicy information” that a handful of people are told makes it through the grapevine to many friends and acquaintances. The Ramban explains, along these lines, that the gossip one tells his friend about a third person will likely be known by the nation, or at least a sizable part of it.
This concept of the word spreading can be understood to warn of lashon hara’s severity from a quantitative perspective. Not only will a couple people know the potentially damaging information, but the masses will. However, it can also highlight the unique element of the aveira of lashon hara. Sins between man and his Maker usually involve one person, the sinner. Sins between man and man generally involve a minimum of two people, the oppressor and the oppressed. Lashon hara is a unique sin in that it directly involves at least three people, the gossiper, the recipient of the information, and the subject of the gossip. As the Ramban points out, this is the tip of the iceberg, as the word may spread to others. The point, though, is that it is a public sin, almost by definition. Indeed lashon hara creates negative terms of engagement for the interaction of society on all levels.
Let us pray and strive to have a nation that interacts in a manner of looking for what is good in each other.
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