Parsha Matos: Caution of loshon hora
By DAVID MOELLER
This week’s Torah portion Matos begins with a lengthy discourse on the laws of promises, oaths and verbal commitments. The laws are somewhat complicated, and the Torah goes to great lengths to elucidate them all.
Why so, when for other mitzvahs it mentions relatively few details, and the rest is learned through the Oral Law? For example, the laws of Shabbos are not elaborated upon in the Torah. In fact, only one prohibition for Shabbos is specifically stated in the Torah. The rest of the laws are learned from the Oral Law (which was also given to Moshe on Har Sinai).
So, why are these laws given so much “air time” in the Written Law of the Torah? Moreover, when Hashem speaks to Moshe regarding these laws, He begins with “This is the matter to which Hashem commands.” This is a very unique saying, which only appears a handful of times throughout the Torah. Clearly, there is something very important here, but what is it?
The answer is actually quite simple, but it is extremely powerful. What is it that separates us as human beings from the rest of the animal kingdom? Nothing separates us more than our ability to speak and to formally communicate with those around us. The power of speech is so great, so powerful, that the great Chofetz Chaim teaches that the sin of loshon hora is on par with the 3 most holy commandments to which every Jew is obligated to uphold even if it means giving his/her life for it.
What is loshon hora and why is it so important? Loshon hora, literally means “bad tongue” and refers to speaking slander about other people as well as speaking about people, places and things in a negative light. The reason this is such an important commandment is because there is so much power in the words we speak. Words can build a person up, or G-d forbid bring a person down. We all see the power the news media has over the minds of so many people, as well as the power of influential people’s forceful words. We only need to go back 70 years to when the wicked Adolf Hitler riled up millions of educated, ‘smart’ people to start a Holocaust and mass destruction which the world is still reeling from today. So, we see how devastating negative, hateful speech can be. So too, positive, uplifting speech has the exact opposite effect.
This is the reason why the Torah goes to great lengths to discuss the laws of oaths, verbal commitments and communications – because of their tantamount importance to the human race. Nothing is more powerful than speech. “This is the matter to which G-d commands!”
Our job as human beings is to elevate ourselves through elevating our speech. We need to speak positively towards everyone! We need to give encouraging words to people instead of spewing hatred and cynicism. Unfortunately, our society these days has taught us to be cynical, but this is precisely our number one mission in life – to be positive towards others, to help other people out through our words and actions, and to be genuine about everything we do and everything we promise to do. It’s not just about our verbal commitments and words – it’s about following up those words with concrete actions demonstrating that we understand the importance and significance of the uttered word. Let’s all elevate ourselves through positive speech and action, and in this way, says the Chofetz Chaim, we will merit the Ultimate Salvation.
(The author is a Rabbinic Fellow at the Kollel Ayshel Avraham Rabbinical Seminary, headed by Rabbi Yaakov Spivak.)