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Lashon Hara

By Rabbi Shlomo Nachman ben Ya'akov © August 20,2014 (updated April 22, 2015)

Lashon hara may be the most serious sin most people have never heard of!
What is Lashon hara?

One of our greatest authorities on the subject is the Chofetz Chaim (i.e. Rabbi Israel Meir HaKohen Kagan -- 1838 - 1933). In his monumental work Sefer Chofetz Chaim (for which he is named) he defines lashon hara this way (emphasis mine):
Lashon hara (lit., evil talk) is defined as information which is either derogatory or potentially harmful to another individual. A derogatory statement about someone is lashon hara, even if will definitively not cause that person any harm. To focus on the shortcomings of another person is in itself wrong.
A statement that could potentially bring harm to someone -- be it financial, physical, psychological or otherwise -- is lashon hara, even if the information is not negative.
(It should be noted that the term lashon hara refers even to true statements which are derogatory or harmful. Negative statements that are untrue or inaccurate are termed hotzaas shem ra [i.e. slander] -- Sefer Chofetz Chaim page 50.
Lashon hara (Ashkenazi: Lashon hora) then is 'evil talk'. All 'evil' arises from the yetzer hara, the negative or selfish impulse. One whose consciousness is negative will inevitably commit lashon hara on a regular basis. Conversely, one whose consciousness abides within the yetzer tov, the positive or selfless impulse is protected from committing this dire sin. One who is wise shuns the yetzer hara and clings to the yetzer tov. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov offers the following insight on avoiding lashon hara:
Never let a word of wickedness leave your mouth. Don't ever say you will be wicked or commit a sin, even if you mean it as a joke and have no intention of carrying out your words.
The words themselves can be very damaging. They can compel you to fulfill them even though you did not mean them seriously.
This was what caused King Jehu's downfall, because he said, "Ahab served Baal a little, but Jehu will serve him very much" (II Kings 10:18). When King Jehu said these words, he had no intention of committing idolatry. He said them only to trick the Baal worshipers, as explained in the following verse. Yet these words were his downfall, because he later came to commit idolatry.
From this the Talmud learns that "a covenant is made with the lips" (Sanhedrin 102a). You should therefore be very careful about what you say -- Sichot Haran #237
Lashon hara begins within the heart but it takes birth through the lips.

The application of this wisdom is discussed in depth in the Kitzur Shulchon Oruch in chapter 30. There we come to understand the consciousness behind lashon hara. The sin begins within the consciousness when it gives way to the yetzer hara: to greed, self doubt, a judgemental spirit. As explained by the Chofetz Chaim, lashon hara arises from the yetzer hara. From this source comes gossip, slander, revenge, the holding of grudges and so many other negative sins. These actions, and the consciousness behind them, are destructive both to oneself and to others. Carefully avoiding this consciousness, as Rebbe Nachman encourages, is the purpose of the various prohibitions on negative speech. The consciousness of the tzadikim (saintly persons) are always bathed in the qualities of goodness. This is the quality our sages encourage us to develop.

Some people take this to unhealthy extremes and fear being open in their communications.

Balance is so important! In human relationships there are bound to be differences of opinion, differences in the level and interpretation of Torah observance. HaShem established immense diversity throughout the creation. We are all created as unique individuals with diverse strengths, weaknesses, and viewpoints. Rather than being critical of others who differ in their views and practices, which arises from the yetzer hara and leads to lashon hara, one does well to embrace diversity within the confines of Torah and personal humility. As Rav Kook of blessed memory said:

"Since there are enough people practicing rejection, I prefer to fill the role of one who embraces"

Let us embrace people! Love everyone! Seek to understand them as unique individuals despite the areas where we differ. In doing so you will find far more unity that you expect!

Live your life fully! Question, debate, have opinions and share them with others openly and always with respect. Listen to other people just as openly. Each person has truth to share.

Know that HaShem has not made anyone else in all of creation quite like you! Find your goodness and Be YOU!

You must search for the good in yourself.

When you start looking deep within yourself, you may think there is no good in you at all. You may feel you are full of evil: a negative voice inside you may try to drive you into depression. But you must not allow yourself to fall into depression. Search until you find some little good in you. For how could it be that you never did anything good in your whole life?...
You must search and search until you find some good point within you to give you new life and happiness. When you discover the good that is still inside you, you literally swing the scales from guilt to merit. This will enable you to return to God. The good you find inside you will give you new life and bring joy to your soul.

Having found one good point, you must continue searching until you find another. Even if you think this good point is also full of flaws, you must still search for some good in it. In the same way, you must continue finding more and more good points...

But finding your good points can give you new life. Even if you know you have done wrong and caused damage and that you are far from God, you must search until you find the good that is still inside you. This will give you new life and make you truly happy. You are certainly entitled to feel the greatest joy over every good point you find in yourself, because each good point comes from the holy soul within you. The new life and joy you will gain from this path will enable you to pray, sing and give thanks to God.
        -- Likutey Moharan I, 282

This wisdom is part of our heritage! Rabbi Hillel said:

"That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn."
        —Talmud, Shabbat 31a
Find the good in yourself and find the good in others. Then you wont commit this grievous offense.

Avoid talk that stems from the negative impulse within you. Seek the good and never defame another person, even if they are at fault. At the same time, speak openly with them with respect and candor. Lashon hara arises from a negative consciousness. That's the point. That's the thing to avoid. As Rebbe Nachman teaches us:

Man's mind is his very essence. Wherever your thoughts are, that is where you are - all of you.
This is why it is so important to avoid all evil thoughts, because otherwise that is where your place will be.
You must force yourself to think good thoughts in order to be worthy of knowing God. Then your place will be with Him and you will be merged with Him. The greater your perception of God, the more fully merged with Him you will become, and then you will attain eternal life -- Likutey Moharan I, 21
Lashon Hara

A conversion between Rebbe Ariel Nachman and Shlomo Phillips

For more information on lashon hara read the Rebbe's inspirational words which were said on Parshas Tazria-Metzora 5775: Click Here.

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