Matters of Taste

February 25, 2010

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM

Matters of Taste

It would seem that there is nothing derogatory about a statement of taste. To say, “I don’t like dry wine,” is a description of the speaker’s preferences and not a critical evaluation of the wine.

Ostensibly, then, one should be allowed to say that one does not like the oratory style of a given lecturer. In fact, however, such statements are generally prohibited, for they imply that the speaker lacks effectiveness.

SEFER SHMIRAS HALOSHON

Breaking Bad Habits

In truth, there is no basis for the contention that the average person cannot avoid forbidden speech for more than a day or two. It is a proven fact that the longer one persists in guarding his tongue, the easier it becomes.

To gossip is a habit, and habits, as time goes on, become a part of a person’s nature. But bad habits can be broken, especially when one becomes aware that a given habit involves numerous Torah prohibitions and is described by our Sages in most severe terms. Such an awareness, coupled with a bit of zealousness, goes a long way. One who would speak whatever came to mind without a moment’s hesitation, will now find himself weighing his words before expressing them.

One should not grow frustrated if, after he resolved to avoid forbidden speech, his evil inclination got the better of him and he spoke loshon hora. Even if this happens time and again, nevertheless, he should not despair. Rather, he should forever strengthen himself to avoid improper speech, and persevere. This is how one should conduct himself his entire life.

This is the intent of the Talmud’s statement, “One should forever arouse his good inclination to subdue his evil inclination” (Berachos 5a). Life is an ongoing struggle with one’s evil inclination. One must forever be poised for battle and never be discouraged by failure. With knowledge of what the Torah requires of us and proper resolve, our efforts will ultimately succeed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Read the rest of this entry »


Content and Intent

February 24, 2010

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM

Content and Intent

Previously, we saw that a statement which is essentially derogatory is forbidden, regardless of the speaker’s opinion regarding that statement. Conversely, it is forbidden to utter a statement which, essentially, is not derogatory, if either the speaker or the listener considers it derogatory.

An illustration of this would be where an individual’s mode of dress is being discussed. Although there may be nothing wrong with the way the person dresses, nevertheless, it is forbidden to say that the individual dresses in that manner, if either the speaker or listener has an unfavorable impression of those who dress that way.

SEFER SHMIRAS HALOSHON

Beyond Comprehension

Let us address the contention that it is virtually impossible to faithfully observe the laws of shmiras haloshon for more than a day or two:

Even if this were correct, is it reason enough to ignore this mitzvah? Imagine a person walking along the seashore, who sees that the sea has washed ashore precious gems. Would such a person — even if he were wealthy — refrain from picking up any gems because he knows it will be impossible to gather them all?

It is exactly the same regarding shmiras haloshon. It is well known that the Vilna Gaon (in his famous letter) quotes the Midrash which says that for each moment in which a person refrains from speaking the forbidden, he merits a hidden light that no angel can fathom. Note that the Midrash does not speak of refraining from forbidden speech for a month, a week, or an hour — but for only a moment!

Scripture states: “If you will seek it like silver and hunt for it like hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of Hashem, and knowledge of G-d you will find” (Mishlei 2:4-5). One must strive to attain spiritual goals in the way that he would seek the greatest valuables that this world has to offer. This is the intent of the statement, “Do not distance yourself from a quality that is without limit.” Avoiding forbidden speech brings infinite merit; if we will only pursue this quality, and not tell ourselves that it is out of our reach, then we will have achieved that which no angel can fathom.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Read the rest of this entry »


Character

February 23, 2010

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM

Character

It is forbidden to say that someone possesses a negative character trait. For example, it is forbidden to say that an individual is quick-tempered, argumentative, stingy, arrogant, etc.

To say that someone is of bad character is forbidden as it is a derogatory statement. However, to indicate that someone is of average character (for example, that he does not overlook the wrong done to him) – while not complimentary – is also not derogatory and may be permissible. In common situations where the term “average” has negative connotations; such a statement would also constitute loshon hora.

One the basis of the principle of relative statements discussed previously (Relative Statements), the claim that a person known for his piety is, in actuality, no better than average, is certainly loshon hora.

SEFER SHMIRAS HALOSHON

Claims and Counter-Claims

R’ Yochanan ben Dehavai said: Do not distance yourself from a quality that is without limit and from a labor that is without end.
To what can this be compared? To someone who took water from the ocean and cast it onto dry land. The ocean did not appear any less full and the land did not become filled [with water]. The man grew frustrated. His employer said: “Foolish one! Why are you upset? Each day you will receive a gold coin for your work.”
(Avos D’R’ Nosson 27:3).

The “quality” to which the sage refers is shmiras haloshon. The evil inclination seeks to discourage us from striving to develop this quality, by way of the following argument: “What benefit will you have from studying the laws and concepts of proper speech? Are you really capable of guarding your tongue all your life? Try to avoid speaking loshon hora for even a day or two! And do you really think that you can avoid everything that one is forbidden to speak? Why, you are a man of the world, you have dealings with scores of people!

“Don’t even attempt to acquire this quality — it simply cannot be done. Guarding one’s tongue requires constant vigilance. It is relevant countless times a day, every day of a person’s life, and it applies to virtually every situation that can occur between man and his fellow.”

R’ Yochanan ben Dehavai teaches us that this is simply not true. One should not distance himself from this quality which, indeed, is “without limit,”1 as we shall explain.

1. “A labor without end” of which the passage speaks is that of Torah study.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Read the rest of this entry »


Relative Statements

February 19, 2010

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM

Relative Statements

Certain statements are loshon hora when said regarding one person, yet are perfectly acceptable when said regarding someone else. For example, to say that a businessman studies Torah five hours a day is obviously not derogatory. However, to say this of a kollel member who is assumed to be spending his entire day engrossed in Torah study would be derogatory. Similarly, it would be forbidden to relate the amount of tzedakah given by an individual, if that amount is considered respectable only for a man of lesser means.

[There may be factors which would prohibit relating such information even when it is clearly complimentary. For example, people who give charity generously often do not want that fact to become public knowledge.]

SEFER SHMIRAS HALOSHON

The Imperative of Halachic Study

Knowledge of the Aggadic teachings regarding loshon hora must be complemented by study of the laws of proper speech. In the words of Midrash Mishlei (1:2): “‘To know wisdom and mussar [inspirational, ethical instruction]’ (Mishlei 1:2) — If one has wisdom [i.e. knowledge of halachah] then he can study mussar, but if he lacks wisdom, then he cannot study mussar.” The Midrash’s intent is clear: If a person is not knowledgeable in the laws of a given topic, then no amount of mussar will help him.

For example: If a businessman thinks that a given practice is not robbery, [when, in fact, it is] then what good will it do to inform him of the severity of the sin of robbery? The same applies to all other negative commandments. Therefore, one must study the Torah’s laws to know what is permitted and what is forbidden, and he must also learn the mussar teachings which inspire a person to fear Hashem. Through study of such teachings, one arouses his soul toward observance of Torah, aside from fulfilling the positive commandment, “Fear HASHEM, your God” (Devarim 10:20).

And so it is with regard to shmiras haloshon. Of what benefit will all the mussar in the world be, if one convinces himself that a given forbidden statement is not in the category of loshon hora?! Or, if he tells himself that the laws of loshon hora do not apply when speaking of a certain individual [when, in fact, they do]?!

Therefore, it is imperative that one know what is and what is not in the category of loshon hora according to halachah. This study should be complemented by inspirational study of the relevant Aggadic teachings.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Read the rest of this entry »


Lack of commitment

February 18, 2010

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM

Lack of commitment

It is forbidden to say that an individual lacks commitment in fulfilling a particular commandment. Therefore, it is forbidden to say that a man sets aside little time for daily Torah study, or that he does not go out of his way to help others.

This would apply even if the speaker and listener themselves study little or are not known for their benevolence, and will openly admit to this without shame. Since the Torah commands us to make Torah study and chesed performance priorities in our lives, it is forbidden to say that someone else lacks dedication in these areas.

SEFER SHMIRAS HALOSHON

Purpose of This Volume

There are many factors which can cause a person to speak loshon hora. The three primary factors are:

(1) A lack of awareness of what a Jew is and is not permitted to say. It is in response to this that we have compiled Sefer Chofetz Chaim, which is a code of laws of proper speech.

(2) Satan’s powerful efforts in this area, as he seeks to indict us Above and to cause our prayers to be rejected (as stated in the holy Zohar, which will be cited in a forthcoming chapter).

(3) Ignorance of the methods through which one can succeed in avoiding the urge to gossip. As Scripture states, “For with strategies shall you wage war for yourself” (Mishlei 24:6).

It is in response to the second and third factors that we have authored this work (Sefer Shmiras Haloshon), a compilation of Aggadic teachings from the Talmud, Midrash and the holy Zohar, which speak of the great reward, in this world and the next, for guarding one’s tongue, and of the retribution that can result from the terrible sin of speaking loshon hora.

We have also labored, with the help of Hashem, to compile from the thoughts of our Sages many methods and suggestions for how to escape the snare of the sin of loshon hora. It is our hope that this will inspire and aid the reader to overcome his inclination to speak the forbidden, so that he can develop the precious, sterling quality of shmiras haloshon.

Because this present work contains many topics that are of vital interest, it is therefore exceedingly precious to me. Therefore, I have given it a title of its own,1 Shmiras Haloshon, based upon the verse, “One who guards his mouth and tongue, guards his soul from tribulations” (Mishlei 21:23).

       1. I.e. Though this compilation of Aggadic teachings and insights is actually another section of Sefer Chofetz Chaim, the author gave it a title of its own.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Read the rest of this entry »


Breach of Halachah

February 16, 2010

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM

Breach of Halachah

It is forbidden to relate that someone has been remiss in matters of Jewish observance – be it a transgression prohibited by the Torah, a rabbinical prohibition, or even a breach of custom. Such statements are derogatory by the Torah’s standards and thus are forbidden.

Therefore, it is forbidden to mention an incident in which one of the people involved transgressed a halachah, even in a society where that particular halachah is commonly ignored.

SEFER SHMIRAS HALOSHON

The Essential Quality

It is every person’s hope and prayer that he or she be healthy, that every organ of the body function as it should. Similarly, it should be every person’s hope and yearning that his or her soul, which lives on eternally, be spiritually healthy. It is therefore imperative that one strive throughout his lifetime to faithfully observe all 613 mitzvos, which provide the components of the soul with eternal life and vitality.

Shmiras haloshon is especially crucial to one’s spiritual wellbeing. People who habitually speak loshon hora, and accept as fact the evil talk of others, corrupt their power of speech and hearing in this world — and their souls will surely be affected in a parallel way in the next world. How great will be their shame in the next world! For it will be obvious to all that their deficiencies resulted from the sin of loshon hora and their having been the cause of strife on this world.

The Torah states: “And Hashem (G-d) formed man from the dust of the ground, and He blew into his nostrils the soul of life, and man became a living being” (Bereishis 2:7). Targum Onkelos translates the verse’s last phrase as, “and man became a speaking spirit.” It is the power of speech which defines man’s essence and distinguishes him from other creatures.

Thus does Scripture state: “One who guards his mouth and tongue, guards his soul from tribulations” (Mishlei 21:23). Shmiras haloshon is singled out because speech is man’s essential quality. Impairment of this power deprives the soul of its essential quality in the next world and is the source of its ultimate tribulation.

David therefore declares, “Which man desires life, who loves days of seeing good? Guard your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit…”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Read the rest of this entry »


Loshon Hora: A Definition

February 14, 2010

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM

Loshon Hora: A Definition

Loshon Hora (lit. evil talk) is defined as information which is either derogatory or potentially harmful to another individual. A derogatory statement about someone is loshon hora, even if it will definitely not cause that person any harm. To focus on the shortcomings of another person is itself wrong.

A statement that could potentially bring harm to someone – be it financial, physical, psychological or otherwise – is loshon hora, even if the information is not negative.

(It should be noted that the term loshon hora refers even to true statements which are derogatory or harmful. Negative statements that are untrue or inaccurate are termed hotzaas shem ra, slander.)

SEFER SHMIRAS HALOSHON

Food for the Soul

One who guards his mouth and tongue, guards his soul from tribulations” (Mishlei 21:23).

Which man desires life, who loves days of seeing good? Guard your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit…” (Tehillim 34:13-14).

Why do the above verses single out shmiras haloshon, guarding one’s tongue, as the key to a good life in both worlds?

The human body is composed of 248 organs and 365 sinews. Corresponding to this are the 248 spiritual organs and 365 spiritual sinews of the soul. As Scripture states: “You clothe me with skin and flesh, cover me with bones and sinews” (Iyov 10:11). The various parts of the body are referred to as “clothing” and “covering” for they clothe and cover the soul within man. Each physical organ corresponds to a specific aspect of the soul.

Hashem has given us 248 positive commandments and 365 negative commandments which relate to the particular parts of the body with which they are performed.1 By performing a given mitzvah through a given organ, a spiritual light comes to rest upon the corresponding component of the soul; it is from this light that this component draws eternal vitality.

Thus, when a person fulfills all the Torah’s commandments, he transforms himself into an adam hashaleim, man of spiritual perfection, whose every fiber is sanctified unto Hashem.

The converse is true as well. If a person commits a transgression and does not repent for it, then the component of the soul which corresponds to that prohibition will suffer accordingly.

1. See opening introduction to Sefer Chareidim.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Read the rest of this entry »


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 29 other followers