Worse than Murder

There are three cardinal sins: avodah zarah (idol worship), gilui arayos (illicit relations), and shefichas damim (murder). The Gemara tells us that lashon hara is worse than all of them. Failing to guard your tongue and speaking in a way that defames another Jew is worse than all three.

The Chofetz Chaim is bothered by a question: it’s not true. A Jew is obligated to give up his life not to violate the three cardinal sins. He is not obligated to give up his life not to speak lashon hara. Why does the Gemara tell us that lashon hara is worse than the three cardinal sins?

Explains the Chofetz Chaim, it works like the threads that make up a rope. If you take a very thin thread, its weak and it rips easily. But if you take that thread and add another and another, and you twist them together, and then take some more threads twist them together, and join them to the first, and keep twisting and joining, before you know it, your rope begins growing and growing. With enough thread, you can create a rope so thick that it can hold a ship in place.

Violating Torah prohibitions can work in a similar way. If I speak lashon harah, it’s not something that I do once. I speak now, I’ll speak later, and I’ll speak again after that. Day after day. Week after week. And it adds  up. Each  individual time I speak lashon hara is much less of a sin than killing a man, having an illicit relation, or serving idols, but there is a cumulative effect here. One on top of another on top of another on top of another.

When it comes to the cardinal sins they have a limit. How many people are you going to kill? How many times are you going to serve idols? But your mouth is working all day, every day. If you don’t guard your tongue, thread after thread will build until you have a rope so thick that it will hang a man. That’s why Chazal say that even worse than a murderer or idolater is a ba’al lashon hara, someone who regularly speaks lashon hara, doesn’t guard his tongue, and lets his tongue wag freely.

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