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Home » Featured, Shemot Parshah

Shemot: Gossip – The Innocent Evil

Submitted by on January 3, 2010 – 1:26 amNo Comment | 1,475 views

The Secret Is Known

Moses grew up in the lap of luxury, raised by the daughter of Pharaoh. Despite his prestige, popularity and power, Moses never forgot his origins. His heart bled for the plight of his brethren. He went out among them and observed their terrible suffering. Men were assigned tasks ordinarily assigned to women and women were made to bear the loads ordinarily assigned to men. Children were given the jobs of adults and the elderly were forced to play like children. Beyond the indignity, this cruelty wore away their physical strength and inner fortitude.

They were forced into back-breaking labor, made to mix mortar, form bricks, construct fortresses and build storehouses. They were forced to work on unstable ground, allowing their captors to berate them every time the buildings collapsed. They were not permitted a break; they worked and slept under the hot desert sun. Their overseers constantly drove and beat them; and on occasion even killed them.

He knew that G d ordained that they would be enslaved in Egypt, but why the back-breaking labor?Moses sought ways to improve their lot. One day he saw an Egyptian overseer beating a Jew half to death. Knowing that Egyptian authorities would not intervene on behalf of a Jew, Moses slew the overseer.

The next day Moses returned to the Jewish people and found the same Jew wrestling with another Jew, who was about to strike him. Aghast at the violence, Moses cried, “Evil one, why do you strike your fellow?” Unaccustomed to rebuke, he angrily replied, “Who appointed you man, minister and judge over us? Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Moses worried and mused, “Indeed, the matter is known.” (1)

The Secret

A literal rendering of these words implies that Moses feared for his own safety, for he understood that these Jews intended on reporting his act to the authorities. Indeed, the very next verse goes on to confirm that this happened, Pharaoh heard about the execution and sought to have Moses killed.

Our sages, however, offer an alternative explanation: “Indeed, the matter–that is, the secret reason for my brethren's suffering–is now known.”

Up to this point, Moses had wondered why the Jews suffered so. He knew that G d ordained that they would be enslaved in Egypt, but why were they forced into back-breaking labor? However, now that he witnessed Jews engaging in evil gossip he understood why they were suffering.(2)

Bear in mind that our ancestors worshiped idols and on occasion beat each other physically. Yet, none of this justified their suffering to Moses. But gossip, a seemingly relatively innocent sin, was sufficient to explain it.

Gossip often conceals its evil nature and lures us in. A remark to your closest friend about another appears innocuous on the surface; but, our Sages tell us, it constitutes a sin that in some ways dwarfs murder, adultery and idolatry combined! Indeed slander drives the Divine presence from among us. (3)

To underscore the power of gossip we turn to another sad chapter in our history. Ahab was a Jewish king who forced his subjects to worship the Baal. Ahab was also a great warrior, who filled the ranks of his army with fellow idol worshipers. Yet despite his many dangerous campaigns, he never lost a single soldier in battle. Our Sages attribute their incredible fortune to a strict ban on gossip. They were grave sinners who had turned their backs on G d, but because they did not turn their backs on each other they emerged from their many battles unscathed.

Conversely, King David's warriors were pious and learned Jews, whose only fault was occasional gossip, and though David won all his wars, many of his warriors perished in battle. (4)

Why?

Informers

once a gossip publicizes the sin, even G d can no longer overlook it. Jewish mystics explained that gossip publicizes sins that are committed in private. G d, who dearly loves His children, always seeks ways to pardon them or delay their punishment. He is forbearing and overlooks even sins as grave as idolatry. However, once a gossip publicizes the sin, even G d can no longer overlook it. It is akin to a father who ignores his son's foibles, but when a gossip comes along to inform him of his son's sins the father loses that luxury and now has no choice: he must punish his son.(5)

This is the deeper meaning of Moses' words, “Indeed the secret is known.” So long as no one gossiped, Moses could not understand their suffering—for as long as their sins were kept quiet a loving G d would overlook them. But when he saw that Jews gossiped, he understood that “their secret was known” and G d would no longer overlook them. Moses finally understood why the Jews suffered so terribly.

Love your Fellow

Gossip is difficult to avoid; it is an impulse enticing to indulge. The way to successfully avoid gossip is to focus on its antidote: love. When we love our fellows we refuse to say or listen to anything negative about them.

Let us remember that our nation is a single family; gossip about a fellow is gossip about a sibling.

Indeed, if gossip is the cause of such suffering, then love is its balm. Let us focus on loving each other and put an end to our long history of suffering. (6)

Footnotes

  1. See Exodus 2: 11-14 and Biblical commentaries and Midrashim ad Loc.
  2. See Rashi’s commentary to Exodus 2: 14 and sources in footnote 1.
  3. Babylonian Talmud, Erkin: 15b and Devarim Rabbah 6: 14.
  4. Jerusalem Talmud, Peah: 1:5.
  5. Zohar I p. 264b as elucidated by Rabbi Yisrael Meir of Radin in the introduction to Chafetz Chaim.
  6. When confronted with gossip against our will we
    are exhorted to disbelieve it. Would we believe that our sibling is
    guilty of terrible crimes just because a person of shady character told
    us so? Surely not. Let us remember that our nation is a single family;
    gossip about a fellow Jew is gossip about our sibling. Further, the
    source of this information is not a person of integrity, but a known
    sinner, guilty of gossip. Surely we hope that no one would believe such
    gossip about ourselves. Let us remember not do unto others what we
    don’t want done to us. For more on this subject see Shemiras Halashon
    by the Cafetz Chaim and Derech Mitzvosecha, Mitzvas Ahavas Yisrael.

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