Words That Hurt

One of the reasons that it’s difficult to work on not speaking lashon hara, is because it feels like  a victimless crime. After all, no one is really hurt.

The Rambam, however defines lashon hara as words that hurt, words that damage.

Whether they damage a person’s reputation, his financial status, or whether they embarrass him, by definition they are words that cause damage.

To appreciate why the Torah takes it so seriously, the Chofetz Chaim gives us an example. We all have something that happened to us that we don’t want anybody to know about. It might be something we said, or something that we did. And thankfully, no one knows about it.

Imagine that you’re standing on the side, and you hear someone speaking about you. And it’s that very moment that he’s  are talking about. Your most embarrassing moment, that very most shameful thing you ever did or said, and he’s telling it in vivid, descriptive detail. You’re hoping against hope that somebody will make him stop, that somebody will defend you, but no one comes to your rescue. On and on he tells it, and the embarrassment you feel is searing.

Explains the Chofetz Chaim anytime that I speak lashon hara I automatically violate, “ואהבת לרעך כמוך,” “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If someone speaks about me, I recognize the damage and the pain it causes me. The Torah obligates me to  put myself in that person’s shoes. When I do, I quickly see that lashon hara isn’t a victimless crime. There is a victim. A very live, human victim—but, It’s not me. The Torah expects us to have that sensitivity to another, just as we have to ourselves.

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