“Human beings are God’s language.” (Hasidic teaching)
The power of words
The Hasidim believe that words are believed to build and destroy worlds. Two of the Ten Commandments relate to speech. One is not to take the name of Adonai in vain. The other is not to speak falsely about another. Judaism teaches about a kashrut of the mouth – one should be as mindful of what comes out of our mouths as what goes in.
How is it that the mouth is unique among all limbs of the body that it is a sacred implement?
Words can sting
Words can inspire. Words can destroy. There is a teaching which says: “These are the words.” Words, in Hebrew, can be called, devarim. Playing with the vowels, the same word can be read as “wasps,” devorim. Words can console us, words can cajole us. Words can tear like wasps at our very flesh. (Rabbi Seymour J. Cohen)
Gossip as a form of murder
Death and life are in the power of the tongue. (Proverbs 18:21)
Reputations are built slowly, but can be damaged rather quickly and heal very slowly.
Does it matter if the gossip or information shared is true? The rabbis compare the experience of public humiliation to be a form of death. This is based on the observation that when humiliated, a person often becomes white as the blood draws away from the face. Thus the one who causes another to be publicly humiliated is likened to a murderer. This is because the one who spreads gossip about another, even if it is true, changes the way others see that person. This is a form of death.
How should we respond to a situation of “murder by mouth”? How can we support the victim of gossip?
How are shmirat halashon and standing up for others’ hurtful speech related? Have you ever asked someone to stop using hateful language? Has anyone ever asked you to stop?
Think twice before speaking
How might “innocent” meddling in another person’s affairs really be a form of gossip?
The person who slanders, who listens to slander, and who testifies falsely deserves to be thrown to the dogs. (Babylonian Talmud, P’sachim 118a)
How have you been tempted to engage in gossip, lashon ha-ra(literally, bad speech”)? How did you respond? What did or did not happen as a result of this choice?
Have you ever been the victim of gossip or slander? How did you feel?
Even as it is a person’s duty to speak what is acceptable, so it is his duty to refrain from speaking what is unacceptable. (Babylonian Talmud, Y’vamot 65b)
How far do we have to go in our obligation to cast others in a positive light?
One who guards one’s tongue and lips is worthy to be clothed with the spirit of holiness. (Zohar 4:183b)
The opposite of lashon ha-ra is lashon ha-tov (literally, “good speech”).
“If a man makes a vow to Adonai or takes an oath imposing an obligation on himself, he shall not break his pledge; he must carry out all that has come out of his mouth. (Numbers 30:3)
“Every word that comes out of our mouths creates an angel. If the words are good, the angel becomes a defender; if bad, an accuser…we must not make our speech common place, for each word produces an angel. What we bring out of our mouth generates powerful consequences, even if it is only something said casually.” (Jonathan Slater, quoting the AR”I with commentary)
What can we do to promote behavior which is positive, respectful and productive, that we might bring holiness even into our everyday conversations?
My God, keep my tongue from evil, my lips from lies.” (Talmud Berakot 17a)
The word of prayer is like a pledge in the making. Words of prayer do not fade. They remain alive in a holy dimension. Words of prayer are commitments. We stand for what we utter. Prayer is the opposite of pretentiousness.” (Jonathan Slater)
The vapor that comes out of our mouth when we speak is part of the soul. That is why we have been commanded not to speak empty things, for we lose a part of our soul with those words.” (Jonathan Slater, commentary on Nevtivot Shalkom, for Parashat Mattot)
A Story of the Feathers
Think about it
Is there a difference between spreading a rumor and telling the truth about someone?
What are the rules of lashon ha-ra on social media such as facebook or blogs?
“Good and bad speech” in the Military - Think about it
How does the military promote or discourage “good” or “bad” speech about others?
As a sailor, what vows are you required to make and uphold? What happens when you feel conflicted about upholding these vows?