Have you ever wondered why at the end of the amidah we first ask G-d, ‘Guard my tongue from evil’…and then ask Him to, ‘Open my heart to Your Torah’? The Chofetz Chaim says, “These two requests flow naturally from one another. One’s Torah maintains its value only when he guards his tongue; otherwise, his Torah is worthless. Therefore, we first pray to merit speaking properly and only then do we ask G-d to merit studying His holy Torah.”
Why is this so? Because someone who disparages someone else or if he tells someone the bad things someone else said about him and bought strife between the listener and that other person, he loses the little Torah he acquired. The Chafetz Chaim writes that his prayers are also not accepted above if he speaks lashon hara (slander), as Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai says, “If one has transgressed lashon hora his prayer does not go up in front of G-d, because on his prayers rest a spirit of defilement.”
But doesn’t the Gemara say that Torah study protects a person from punishment and saves him from sinning? Yes, however, there is one exception to this Gemara:
“Someone whose mouth is always open (talking) and doesn’t take care (to guard what comes out of his mouth) – even if he learns all six orders of Mishnah and all of Shas several times over, when he arrives On High he will not find even one single Gemara that will protect him because each one, each page of his Torah learning has dragging behind it a spirit a repulsive force of impurity and defilement that hangs over it.”
The Chofetz Chaim continues, “It never ceases to amaze me how people look for mystical charms and blessings from our great sages for success and livelihood. But what possible value is there in these amulets and blessings if, G-d forbid, this person routinely violates the sin of lashon hora and the sin of rechilus (gossip)? The Torah specifically promises that this person will be cursed: ‘Cursed (‘arur’) is the person, who secretly hits his fellow Jew; Rashi explains this pertains to lashon hora.”
“If people would listen to me, I would advise them even further: They should be especially careful to avoid this sin and not to in any way actively cause any harm to their fellow Jew, especially theft, violence, oppression, deception and other similarly harmful actions. Most certainly these things are a major cause for a person to lose his wealth to the point he has nothing… However, if he follows my advice then his assets will be blessed far more than using any mystical amulets. Everyone knows that the Torah’s curses are always preceded by G-d’s blessings: ‘blessed is whoever does not hit his fellow Jew – and all of Israel answered Amen to this.’ Surely this blessing will come true and will endure.”
“There is yet another great and holy benefit from controlling one’s language. That is peace! If he is very careful in his speech he will stop being jealous of others. People will like him and will confide secrets to him. People will not gossip about him because they hold him in high esteem. It is said in the name of the Holy Ari that measure for measure, as you are discreet about other people, they will be discreet about you…”
Why is Torah study equal to all the mitzvoth and speaking lashon hora equal to all sins combined?
The Chofetz Chaim explains: “Other commandments involve limbs such as the hands or feet. Deeds accomplished with the more physical parts of the body do not have the same spiritual impact as those executed with one’s thought and speech, which are more spiritual in nature. When G-d created Adam, the Torah says that ‘He blew into his nostrils a spirit of life and he became a living soul’ (Bereishis 2:7). Onkelos translates ‘living soul’ as ‘speaking soul.’ Thus, speech represents the spiritual aspect of a human being. Since both Torah study and lashon Hara involve speech, Torah study is the ultimate mitzvah, while lashon hora is the ultimate sin.”
The Gemara explains that a person is only superficially punished for lashon hora sin in this world, but the worst part of his punishment will be reserved for him in the World to Come. Our Creator gives us beneficial advice, “If it is your desire to be protected from purgatory then stay away from lashon hora and you will merit reward both in this world and in the World to Come.” Picture the following scenario: Reuven needs to buy something and he has no cash or credit card on him. Shimon, his friend, lends him his credit card. Reuven buys what he needs. Then he thinks to himself, “I’m sure he won’t mind if I buy a few more things.” Reuven then decides to fulfill the dictum of “One mitzvah leads to another mitzvah.” buying one thing after the other, until Shimon’s credit card is maxed out. Reuven comes to Shimon and says to him, “I’m now in debt. Can you pay it off?”
When we speak lashon hora about someone else, we take his sins upon ourselves and he takes our mitzvos! Bear in mind, only for speaking lashon hora alone he already transgresses 31 Torah prohibitions and gets 3 curses. Now, he also acquires the other person’s sins. Any thinking and rational person should ask himself, “Is that really a good bargain?!”
What is the global effect of one person speaking loshon hora? The Chofetz Chaim says, “When a Jew speaks loshon hora against his fellow Jew and complains against him, he causes accusations in Heaven to be brought against the Jewish people and he empowers the Accuser to indict the Jewish people. This sin brings plague, sword and murder to the world. Woe is to those who awaken this evil force, who do not guard their tongues and pay no heed to this! They do not realize that the ways of Heaven reflect the ways of the world, both for good and bad. Through evil talk, the Great Serpent (Satan) is aroused to voice accusation against the world.”
We know that nothing can stand in the way of returning to G-d. G-d can eventually forgive a person any other transgression except for lashon hora.
The Vilna Gaon says: “Until the day he dies, a man must impose restrictions daily, to discipline himself…restraining his mouth and his desires; that is true repentance! All the benefits of the World to Come come from this. King Solomon alluded to this in Mishlei: ‘A mitzvah is a candle (i.e. a weak light) and Torah is illumination… (i.e. a much brighter light) but the pathway for life is self-imposed discipline.’ This is greater than all of the fasting and lashes in the whole world combined.
However, the person who consciously closes his mouth, who refrains from lashon hora, will earn the radiance in the World to Come that is stored away for the righteous. The Vilna Gaon comments in the name of the Midrash that for every moment a man keeps his mouth closed, he earns the merit of receiving a holy radiance (whose benefit) is far beyond the comprehension of any angel or being. Therefore, King David warns us, that whoever wants an everlasting life in Olam Haba and wants to see goodness in this world should guard his tongue from speaking evil.
Practically speaking, the prohibition of lashon hora applies whether one disparages someone else through speech or through writing about him [i.e. emailing, texting, Facebooking, Tweeting, Skyping, Blogging or Commenting on a website]. In addition, there is no difference whether he speaks the lashon hora explicitly or merely hints it. It is considered lashon hora no matter how the information is conveyed.
The Torah prohibits lashon hora spoken even light-heartedly or in jest. Since his words are, in fact, derogatory, it’s forbidden even though hatred wasn’t his motivation and he has no intention to disparage the other person. Moreover, the prohibition of lashon hora can apply even if he doesn’t specify whom he is speaking about. It is forbidden to speak lashon hora about any Jew to one’s parents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins, a spouse or in-laws.”
Napoleon Hill said, “Think twice before you speak because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.”
The Noam Elimelech identifies lashon hora as one of the mitzvoth which people do not take seriously, causally trampling it with their heels. Likewise, the Chofetz Chaim says, “People got used to saying whatever happens to come out of their mouth without first considering that perhaps what they are saying is rechilus or lashon hora.” Nevertheless, we are all human and make mistakes. As King Solomon states, “There is no man so completely righteous on earth that he (always) does good and never sins.”
Hence, “If your yeitzer hara vanquished you today and you used forbidden language, tomorrow, stand up again, strengthen yourself and fight against the yeitzer hara and be triumphant over him. Even if G-d forbid, the yeitzer hara should again battle you and win, still, you must get back up and strengthen yourself to battle against him again and most certainly you will (eventually) be victorious. Anyone who seeks to sanctify himself will receive assistance from G-d to overcome his yeitzer hara and defeat him because Heaven will always help those who try to improve themselves.
What’s the solution? In the end of the preface to the Chofetz Chaim, he states: “If you toil very much in the Torah’s words, G-d will remove the yeitzer hara from you.” I thought to myself that perhaps, if people study this book and seriously consider its contents – which were compiled from all of the works of the Rishonim (early sages from about the year 1,100) that deal with this subject – then the yeitzer hara will not be as powerful regarding this sin. If one takes a small step toward refraining from this sin, then eventually he will able to refrain from it completely, for this is a sin that is largely governed by habit. Indeed, our sages say that one who seeks to improve himself is granted Heavenly assistance…
With G-d’s help, by taking the Chofetz Chaim’s advice to guard our tongue; may we soon merit that our mouths be full of laughter and our tongues with glad song, as G-d brings us back to Zion!