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When the Jewish people camped at Sinai, the Torah tells us that they were united. Rather than saying that they camped at Mount Sinai, the Torah says, he camped at Mount Sinai.[1] This draws the attention of Rashi, the eleventh century biblical commentator, who observes, “As one people with one …

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Home » K'doshim, Life Is Beautiful

K’doshim: Gossip can be Deadly

Submitted by on April 30, 2006 – 2:08 pmNo Comment | 1,986 views

Innocent Chatter

On a bus in Tel Aviv, an elderly woman could not help but overhear as two young ladies gossiped about a friend, who was engaged to be married. Giggling, they predicted that if her fiancé would only discover her faults, he would surely call off their engagement. The woman introduced herself to the young ladies as the mother of their friend’s fiancé. “Thank you so much,” she said, “for revealing this information before my son actually married your friend. I will hurry home now and cancel the engagement.”
Aghast, the ladies paled. They never imagined that their innocent chatter would harm their friend. The lady then smiled and said, “I am not his mother, but,” she admonished, “what if I were? Your gossip might have destroyed your friend’s happiness.”

In the Hands of the Tongue

King David wrote, “Those who desire life must guard their tongue from speaking evil. King Solomon declared, “Life and death are in the hands of the tongue.” (1)
A soldier shooting a machine gun or even a mortar causes a limited number of victims. A general, by contrast, who conducts the entire army by force of the spoken word, destroys millions of lives. Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin used oratory and charisma to kill more than fifty million
people! Indeed gossip can be deadly. (2)
Many of history’s tragedies resulted from gossip or slander. The serpent slandered G-d when he seduced Chava and convinced her to eat from the forbidden fruit. Moses declared that our ancestors did not merit an early redemption from Egypt because they slandered each other. Jews were exiled from Israel because the ten spies slandered the land of Israel.gossip can be deadly innerstream
(3)
Gossip and slander cause terrible punishment because it highlights the faults of others. When we highlight other peoples’ faults, G-d highlights our own faults and punishes accordingly. (4)

Collecting Gems

We often despair of ever changing our gossiping habits because they are so deeply ingrained. We are convinced that even if we avoided gossip today we could not expect to avoid it again tomorrow. We would surely fall prey to our old habits and we would gossip again. What is the point of even trying to stop?
We must, however, remember that every time we avoid gossip we collect a spiritual reward on an order that even angels cannot conceive. (5)
Avoiding gossip is comparable to discovering a treasure of gems. We would never deny ourselves one or two gems only because we couldn’t gather the entire treasure. We would gather as many gems as possible and consider ourselves lucky.

 Transformation

The assumption that we cannot reverse old gossiping habits is erroneous. Gossip thrives on positive reception and reciprocation. It requires the consent of both parties, the speaker and the listener. When we refuse to accept gossip we force our former gossip partners to seek out new listeners.
Furthermore, when we refuse to gossip, others will stop gossiping in our vicinity. Having lost our former gossip partners, we will be unable to return to our old habits.

Collecting Reward

When other people refrain from gossip on our account we merit a reward for their mitzvah. Furthermore, much of the conversations that take place at the Synagogue during services are filled with gossip. When we refrain from gossip we naturally find more time for prayer.
This allows us to collect reward for the extra prayers that we recite and for the extra concentration that we pour into them. It also allows us to collect reward for the prayers our friends recite during the time that they would otherwise have gossiped with us.
On a more mundane level, those who avoid gossip enjoy an increased measure of serenity. When we are insulted or otherwise hurt we can prolong the pain by sharing it with family and friends. Every time we talk about it we relive the experience and exacerbate the pain. Avoiding gossip helps us avoid the additional anguish.
Though we might be scorned by other gossipers when we first try to avoid gossip, such scorn is often short lived. In the long run we earn their esteem and respect. Furthermore, we also earn the trust and friendship of others. Friends grow comfortable with us and confide in us knowing that such confidence would never be abused.

Favorable Speech

Avoiding negative speech is the first step. The second step is to fill our minds with favorable thoughts and our mouths with favorable words. The Mishnah exhorts us to judge other people in a favorable light. Indeed, to judge favorably in our heart, to think favorably in our minds and to speak only favorable words, is to emulate the ways of G-d. (6)

Fotnotes

  1. Psalms 34: 13-14. Proverbs 18: 21. Bab. Talmud, Erkin, 15b.
  2. Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, The Committed Life, Harper Collins Publishers, S. Francisco, 1998, p. 219.
  3. Genesis 2: 5.
    Exodus 2: 14. Shemos Rabba, 1: 30. Psalms 106: 26-27. Nachmanidie (R.
    Moshe Ben Nachman, Spain, 1194-1270) on Numbers 14: 1. Bab. Talmud,
    Erkin, 15a.
  4. On the other hand, G-d dismisses the faults of those who don’t gossip and who view others in a favorable light.
  5. Attributed to the Gra (R. Eliyahu, Gaon of Vilna, 1720 –1782).
  6. This essay is based upon Sefer Chafetz Chayim and Sefer Shmiras Halashon (R. Israel Meir Kagan, Radin, 1838 -1933).
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