Rabbi Mayer Twersky
Rabbi Mayer Twersky

The Gift of Speech

A blessing of the leap year is that the cycle of krias haTorah focuses our attention on lashon hara as we prepare for Pesach. The parshios of Tazria and Metzora extensively deal with halachos of tzara'as, a skin disease which, according to Chazal, is inflicted as a punishment for the sin of lashon hara. Thus as we keep pace with parshas hashavua our attention is focused on lashon hara and its consequences. The focus on lashon hara is especially welcome because it dovetails beautifully with our Pesach preparations.

Galus Mitzrayim was precipitated and prolonged by cheit halashon, sins of speech. In terms of long term causes, the lashon hara which Yosef hatzaddik spoke about his brothers to his father incited their hatred and set in motion events which ultimately resulted in galus Mitzrayim.

In terms of short term causes, Chazal comment on the passuk in Prashas Shemos "achein nodah hadavar" that Moshe Rabbienu, upon his encounter with Dasan and Aviram, experiences an "ah ha!" moment. Moshe Rabbeinu, according to Chazal, now understood that the Jewish people were deserving of servitude because they engaged in hurtful, harmful speech, even informing on each other.

With this background we can approach a fascinating teaching of the Zohar Hakadosh. The Zohar Hakadosh teaches that in Mitzrayim dibur (speech) was in galus. Exile is not merely a physical and political reality and category; exile is also a spiritual reality and category. The faculty of speech, according to the Zohar, was in galus. Klal Yisroel abused the gift of speech, and as a result, they were plunged into galus, not only bodily but also spiritually. The gift of speech was also exiled.

What does galus of speech entail? Speech serves as an instrument of communication. As such speech represents communication. When the Zohar Hakadosh teaches that in Mirztaryim dibur was in galus this means that the ability to communicate had been exiled. Sans communication interpersonal connections can not be forged or maintained. The galus of dibur generates crushing solitude.

A major feature of the slavish existence is solitude. As a result of his servitude, the slave is cut off from others. He leads a lonely, solitary existence [1]. The commensurability (middah keneged middah) of slavery as a punishment for lashon hara is clear. Lashon hara creates divisiveness. The punishment for creating divisiveness through evil speech is slavish solitude with the concomitant loss of the ability to communicate. And thus along with the Jewish people dibur was exiled.

When galus is precipitated by the abuse of speech, geula is conditional upon the refinement and purification of speech. And thus as we attempt to re-create and re-experience the geula of Mitzrayim on the night of the Seder, we harness our ability to speak to engage in sipur yetzias Mitzrayim. Asi dibur umevatel dibur. The redemptive speech of sipur yetzias Mitzrayim offsets the destructive speech of lashon hara.

And thus we are fortunate that the Parshas Hashavua in a leap year focuses our attention on the egregious sin of lashon hara as we anticipate the yom tov of Pesach. Focusing upon the causes and consequences of lashon hara should constitute a vital part of our Pesach preparations. The present forum is not suited for a discussion of the ignobility, pettiness, voyeurism ("seeking the sordid or scandalous", Merriam Webster Collegiate Dictionary) or mean-spiritedness which animate lashon hara. Nor is the present forum suited for a depiction of the hurt, hatred, humiliation, and divisiveness which result from lashon hara. Nevertheless, as part of our Pesach preparations the following notes of caution should be sounded: It is forbidden to engage in lashon hara - as disseminator or receiver - in any medium - oral, written, or electronic. It is well known that the Chafetz Chaim delineates exceptional circumstances wherein lashon hara is warranted and thus constitutes a mitzvah. But we ought to be exceedingly wary of ignobility, pettiness, voyeurism or mean-spiritedness self-righteously masquerading as a mitzvah.


[1] This idea is reflected in the halacha that "eved ein lo chayas", that an eved kna'ani is not halachically related even to his biological children

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