ABOUT MALICIOUS GOSSIP
Our Sages have learned from Moshe Rabenu that one must be quits with G-d and Israel. If someone suspects a innocent man of breaking a commandment, that man must not stay quiet but prove that the accusation is false. Otherwise, he is breaking the commandment of being quits with G-d and Israel and also the one that states: "Do not put pitfalls in front of a blind person." And if this man does prove that he is not guilty, but we still suspect him and spread gossip about him, in this case, we are breaking several serious commandments. The most serious commandment being broken is: "You shall not go about as a tale bearer among your people". People are unaware of the seriousness of the proscription against malicious gossip. Many towns and communities were destroyed because of this sin. Women, in particular, who have free time on Shabbatot and holidays, like to get together to chat and speak lashon hara about others. Isiah 1:14 reflects on this: "Your new moons and your appointed seasons" during which there is no affection and unity between man and his neighbor and where "Lashon Hara" is spoken. Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because they didn’t respect one another. The generation of the flood was punished because, as the Torah tell us, the earth was filled with violence and theft. The twenty-four thousand disciples of Rabbi Akiva perished during the epidemic because they didn’t respect each other. The two Temples of Jerusalem were burnt down by our enemies because there was gratuitous hate and malicious gossip that can be compared to AVODA ZARA (idol worship. See the book of Pele YOET3).
Malicious gossip is considered as one of the biggest sins. G-d doesn’t tolerate the person who speaks evil about another, even if the things being said are true. Because of malicious gossip, man breaks the commandment of showing love towards his neighbor and distances himself from him. In the book of Kings, an incredible thing is written about Ahab, King of Israel. Even though his people worshipped idols and renounced the G-d of Israel, they were always victorious in their wars to such a point, that our Teachers said that Ahab, King of Israel, was one of the ten kings who ruled over the world. Our Sages asked themselves the following question: Why did G-d help Ahab and his people fight their enemies despite the fact that they believed in idolatry? The Talmud answers: "Because they were not among the people who gossiped."
When there is no gossip, unity reigns and man can perfect himself even to the detriment of the Divine honor as in the temple of Ahab. Despite the fact that they renounced G-d, they honored the Torah. We can now understand the words that G-d put in the mouth of the prophet: "Even if they abandon me, let them at least keep the Torah". Then the following questions arise: "How can G-d let the children of Israel abandon Him under the condition that they keep the Torah? And if they don’t honor G-d, how can they keep and honor the Torah? The explanation is as follows. G-d said to the children of Israel: "Let them abandon me as they did in the time of Ahab. As long as there is unity between them and there in no gossip, I will come to their rescue. "
It is written in the book of Kings: The king of Aram sent messengers to Ahab so that he bring him a Sepher Torah. But the King Ahab and his people refused, because even if they renounced G-d (the evil inclinations in regard to idolatry were very strong at that time), they still honored the Torah and knew that the King of Aram would have despised the Torah and was only looking for a provocation. Even though the king of Israel offered money and gold so that he withdraw without having to resort to war, the king of Aram refused and demanded the Sepher Torah of King Ahab. The King of Aram went to war but he was defeated by Ahab, in spite of the fact that the troops of Aram were much stronger than those of Israel. G-d granted them the victory because they respected each other and honored the Torah that contains many commandments regarding the relationship between man and his neighbor.
Today, unfortunately, even people who consider themselves Sages, erudite and pious, commit the sin of gossip. They can’t resist practicing malicious gossip and forget that, by doing so, they destroy the Divine image within them and cause harm to the world and themselves. These days, many people attend Torah courses that are organized by the community. Quite often, in the middle of the course, someone asks a question regarding a third person. The person who is asked the question, starts gossiping instead of keeping silent. Hence the merit of studying the Torah is lost, and the punishment will always follow. Our Sages said: "He who judges his neighbor by his merits will be judged by G-d in the same manner" It goes without saying that the opposite also applies. One time, a person came to ask us for advice. He was attending a Torah course in town where he heard gossip about religious people. Being fearful of G-d, he became outraged but didn’t know what to do. We told him that if he couldn’t stop the gossip, he should no longer attend these courses, otherwise he would associate himself with this serious sin. Some people claim to be "Baale Teshuvah" but do not hesitate to judge others with severity. How can a Teshuvah accompanied by gossip be accepted? Not only are they sinning, but those who are listening to them are also committing a sin, and this is very serious.
It is extraordinary that one can find such behavior among people who consider themselves to be pious and want others to do Teshuvah. Moreover, when they are affected by, G-d forbid, sicknesses or other problems, and pray that G-d help them, they are unaware that their gossip is the reason behind their troubles, and if they don’t ask the person they gossiped about for forgiveness, G-d will not answer their prayer.
The Gaon of Vilna demanded that his wife and daughters not go the Synagogue on Shabbat or even Yom Kippur because he didn’t want them to listen to other women gossiping. Our Sages, of blessed memory, said that gossip creates an angel who speaks and accuses man before G-d, and even though G-d would like to save the man, the angel doesn’t allow it by his words. And if man has been decreed long life, he can shorten his days through gossip, and this sin will attract evil decrees upon himself and his families.
Dear brothers, we should learn a lesson from what happened to the prophetess Myriam. By her virtue, the children of Israel found a well in the desert but she was punished by the "Tsaraat" (skin disease, punishment for gossip) after having spoke maliciously about her brother Moshe. We should make big efforts in order to distance ourselves from gossip, not speak it or listen to it, even if the things being said are true, more so if they are false.
He who speaks gossip proves that he is heartless. He is projecting feelings of jealousy and gratuitous hate and tries to incite hatred against the person he is gossiping about.
When two great teachers of the Torah are involved in a dissension and have opposite views, it is forbidden for us to get involved in their dispute. We should never listen to gossip, whether it is from one side or the other. Rav Nahman from Braslav recommends that we not get involved in the disputes of the Teachers. These disputes are aimed at confusing Satan whose goal is the destruction of the unity of Israel. We should trust both of them and not take sides.
Someone asked us if the fault committed by the explorers who visited Eretz Israel on Moshe’s orders, was forgiven. And was there any consequences for the gossip they spoke about Israel? We answered that not only were they punished but they also caused the children of Israel to be punished and die in the desert earlier than they were destined to, thus making impossible their entrance to the Promised Land. Only their children were able to enter Israel. As a result, the night the children of Israel cried, the ninth of Av, was decreed as a night of cries, when the destruction of the first and second Beth Hamikdash was foreseen. But even if we understand the reason for the explorers and the children of Israel being punished, why should Eretz Israel also be punished? We answer to this by citing our Sages, of blessed memory: "Three people are punished by the sin of gossip. The one who speaks it, the one who listens to it, and the one whom the gossip is about." Eretz Israel was destroyed at the time of the Babylonians and the Romans because of the gossip spoken by the explorers of the time of Moshe Rabenu. Just like the explorers, the Children of Israel who listened to the gossip and believed it caused harm to their descendants. They were involved in gratuitous hate and idol worship which is comparable to gossip. The sons were also punished and the land was destroyed because of the sins of the fathers. Knowing this, we understand to what extent gossip can be harmful, not only for the person being gossiped about, but also for his family.
When man speaks gossip about his neighbor, he destroys his "Tselem Elokim" (man’s divine print) and because of this, his "spiritual structure" changes. The only way to rectify this sin is to ask the person in question for forgiveness in front of the people who listened to the gossip. Even if the person who spoke gossip was a righteous man, he will have to take this sin with him into his grave and give his account before G-d, unless he rectifies his sin.
Here, it would be appropriate to point out the following: if the explorers and the children of Israel who had gossiped against Eretz Israel (where resides the "Shekhina", divine presence, and divine glory) were punished by dying in the desert, how much more will those who gossip against their neighbors be punished? The person who speaks against an honest man can be compared to the one who speaks against G-d for it is written: "They spoke against G-d and Moshe". Rashi Zal explains: "They compared the servant to his master". It should be understood that when they spoke against Moshe Rabenu, they were speaking against G-d, because, as we know, our Teacher Moshe spoke to G-d, face to face, and his face was illuminated by the light of the "Shekhina".
Now we will examine the conduct of Cain when he killed his brother Abel. G-d asked him: "Where is your brother Abel?" Cain answered: "Am I my brother’s keeper?" G-d decreed against him: "A restless wanderer shall you be on earth!", because the answer he gave when asked about his brother was contemptuous. Instead of admitting his sin, he added arrogance to his answer. What he really meant was: "How I am supposed to look after the brother that I hate?" This is equivalent to malicious gossip and it is why he was punished by exile, forced to wander from one place to another even though he repented. But his repentance wouldn’t change anything since his brother was dead. The last letters of the word "lashon hara" contain the word "na" meaning "to wander"; therefore, wandering is the punishment for gossip. It corresponds to the principle of "measure for measure". For he who commits malicious gossip, intends to influence those who are listening. This will be his punishment: he will wander from one place to another, places where he is unknown and where no one will want to deal with him.
Now, my dear brothers, watch your words, because even if they are true, they can drag you into sin before G-d. Instead, try to follow what Raban Shimon Ben Ganiliel taught us, by saying at the end of the first chapter of "Pirke Avot": "I lived all my life among Sages and I don’t think that there is anything better for the body than silence" May you be blessed. Amen.