We live in difficult times. When we look around, we see an enormous amount of anti-Semitism and tragedies: bankruptcies, divorces, young people dying, and we don’t understand why.
Looking at Jewish history, we go back to examine what might account for such tragedies. Let’s look at some of them.
Brief Overview of Jewish History and the Future
The Beis Ha’Mikdash, the greatest place in the world, was the makom--place of the Divine Presence itself. Why were these two Temples destroyed--the first and second? How do we understand this? The period of the exile itself--2,000 years--Is a very long time. None of us ever expected the galus to be 2,000 years in duration so we ask--why? Where is mashiach? Why hasn’t he come? What delays his coming? These questions, and the ideas around them, can go on and on but, ultimately, what we seek is clarity, an understanding, an explanation.
Not only will I try to answer these questions, but answer another question which reveals much: What is the “key to both worlds,” that of Olam Ha’Ze--this world, and Olam ha’Ba--Future World, the hereafter? What is the best way to achieve happiness and satisfaction and meaning in this world? The answer to all these questions lies in a specific mitzvah, one which we would never believe could be the focal point of all these ideas.
That mitzvah is called “shmiras ha’loshon”--guarding one’s speech. The Torah enjoins us, “lo telech rechil b’amecha”--thou shalt not go as a talebearer among your people. This mitzvah to refrain from loshon ha’ra--evil, denigrating speech is the bedrock of all the events that happen to klal Yisrael--Jewish community. How do we understand this?
What I hope to do in this lecture is to inform and inspire you as to why you have to be so careful about speaking loshon ha’ra--harmful, denigrating speech. It is communication of harmful information that can degrade, damage--physically or monetarily, or create hatred between one Jew and another. All these are within the rubric of “loshon ha’ra.” Once you understand the true power of such speech, you will gain insight into the mystery of all events that have happened, and continue to happen, to klal Yisrael.
Five Mitzvahs: Interpretation, Utterance, Listening, Favorable Judgement, Belief
How do we know the magnitude of this? If the Torah gives a tzivui--a commandment many times, then it’s got to be important. Let’s take, for example, the commandments about Shabbos--Sabbath. The Torah commands us to observe it many times so what we know, therefore, is that, clearly, Shabbos has to be important and serious to the Ribono Shel Olam Himself. Otherwise, why repeat it so many times?
Loshon ha’ra is in the same category as Shabbos. Imagine you see somebody going into a restaurant and you think to yourself: wait a minute! That restaurant is not kosher. Is he/she really eating unkosher food? Immediately G-D intervenes and gives you a mitzvah to refrain from interpreting this in a negative way. You must interpret it in a positive way. Perhaps he/she is going into the establishment for some purpose other than to eat. G-D enjoins us, commands us, to fulfill the mitzvah to interpret anybody’s acts in a positive manner.
What happens if I interpret it negatively and say the person clearly went into the restaurant to eat non-kosher food? Again, G-D interferes as if saying: you interpreted this negatively which you should not have done so now I forbid you to speak this information, to communicate this harmful information because, if you were to tell this to anyone, it will degrade the person you’re talking about. This is the second tzivui--directive,associated with “lo telech rechil b’amecha.” This command can be violated, as we see, in two ways, by thought and speech. Let’s say I violated the command and not only interpreted it negatively, but then went so far as to tell the information to someone else, tell them what I saw. Then G-D “leaves me,” the speaker, and addresses the listener and orders him: it is forbidden for you to listen to loshon ha’ra.
Let’s assume that I listened to the loshon ha’ra. So, G-D doesn’t give up. G-D says, ostensibly: You just listened to something negative about a particular subject. I now command that you also must judge this person favorably. The mitzvah is not only for someone who sees an event but also hears about an event. He too must interpret in a positive light.
Let’s now assume that the listener too interpreted the event negatively, the same as the observer. Again, G-D doesn’t give up. G-D then decrees: you must not believe it. You are forbidden to believe the information that you have interpreted negatively.
This is astounding. The Ribono Shel Olam interfered five times in communications in the witnessing of an event in order to stop the flow of harmful information, to stop loshon ha’ra.
Why? Why would He not just say: Listen! Don’t speak loshon ha’ra! For G-D to give four mitzvos five different times indicates that, to Him, it is critical not to engage in this sort of speech.
I’ll now get into the different dimensions that will explain why it is so important to G-D that we observe this mitzvah. When you understand these ideas, you will be inspired to observe this command because you will realize that speaking, listening to, or believing loshon ha’ra is among the greatest of tragedies that you can bring upon yourself and the Jewish people.
The First Dimension: Damage
Let’s take a look at the first dimension. Were I to approach you asking, “Why are you hitting this person?” or “Why are you burning his car?” or “Why are you destroying his house?” what would you say to me?
You’d say, “What are you talking about? I’m not that kind of guy; I’m a nice guy. I would never maliciously, knowingly, harm a person.”
But the truth is such that you did exactly that, in a sense. You’re a masek--a doer of these things when you speak loshon ha’ra. You’ve degraded the person to another individual, a listener. You’ve perhaps created animosity within the listener when you said to him, “Do you know what someone said about you?” or “Do you know what so-and-so did to you behind your back?” Clearly, there’s a great hatred or animosity the listener will feel about the subject of the conversation. You’re a damage-doer. You would never imagine that you did this because you think that being such a one involves doing harm physically or damaging his possessions. In truth, if you speak about him in a derogatory way, you are a masek. You’ve damaged his reputation. We live with, interact with, people because our reputations are sound. So, it comes out that, if you speak loshon ha’ra, you’ve done far more damage to him than if you’d burned his house down. At least with a house, hopefully, you can rebuild it. Do you have any idea how hard it is to rebuild a destroyed reputation? This realization is probably shocking to you.
Second Dimension: “King” Versus “Father”
This dimension is much more in the metaphysical realm. You will see that speaking loshon ha’ra brings in many radical ideas which are frightening when you realize they exist. When we daven--pray, we evoke the concept of “avinu malkeinu”--our Father, our King. What’s the difference between a father and a king?
A melech-king has subjects. That’s how we relate to him, as a subject. What’s the nature of the relationship that will enable the king to be good to us, to reward us?--obedience. If we observe the king’s edicts, laws, he will be merciful and reward us. What happens if we don’t? Obviously, he will punish us. What determines the relationship in terms of his behavior toward us, his subjects, is that of obedience to His will, toward the laws of the country.
“Avinu”--our Father is a different concept. When you refer to somebody as “father,” the RIbono Shel Olam as a “father,” it means He loves you. G-D loves us as His children and it’s unconditional. He always loves us because a father always loves his child even if he has to punish the child sometimes. Even if we don’t deserve his favor, the father will be merachem--merciful toward us. When G-D is our “Father,” we hope and expect that He is merciful, will reward us, even if we don’t deserve it.
What a difference there is between when the Ribono Shel Olam is our Father and when He is our King! Clearly, we prefer “avinu.” For instance, during Rosh Ha’Shana, we declare Him to be our King. We are frightened because we know that He will now examine our deeds to determine the extent of our obedience and, of course, the consequences of that will determine whether we live or die, whether we have a good life or a poor one in the upcoming year.
We don’t want Him to be a “melech,” really. We want Him to be “avinu.” The question we have to ask ourselves is: what determines if He is a melech or an av? The answer is a fundamental principle in the Torah, “mida-k’neged-mida--measure for measure. What does that mean? It means that what happens to us depends on what we ourselves do. In other words, we are the true cause of the consequences that come our way.
If we love our fellow Jews, are concerned for their welfare, then we are a mishpacha--family. When we behave as a family, then G-D says that He is our Father. As a Father, he is merciful and gives us good even if we are not worthy.
If we don’t love each other, don’t demonstrate concern for each other and, on the contrary, speak loshon ha’ra, degrade each other, create animosity and hatred amongst each other, in other words, destroy the unity of klal Yisrael, we are not a family. G-D could say: you’re not a family so I’m not your Father; I’m your King. Therefore, my relationship with you in terms of what I do for you is predicated on your obedience to Me. Do you adhere to the laws or not?
This is terrible because many times we sin, are chotei, do not adhere but, instead, cause, due to our loshon ha’ra, the sina--hatred, the degradation and disunity. As such, we cause G-D to become a King instead of a Father. If we refrain from speaking loshon ha’ra, we foster ahavas Yisrael--love amongst the Jewish people and tremendous unity so G-D can be our Father.
When we foster that, what happens? There’s a tremendous “Chatam Sofer” from parashas--Torah portion “Vaaira,” in book of “Shemos’--Exodus. It says the following: “G-D says, ‘I have also heard their cries’,” and instructs Moshe to “take them out” of Egypt. Why the inclusion of this “also”? Why not just say, “I have heard their cries”? It sounds like somebody has heard it before, that “I too have heard their cries.” What does this addition of the word “gam”--also refer to? The “Chatam Sofer” offers a superb concept, that when the Jews see each other’s tzurus--hardships, suffering, they begin to pray, not for themselves, but for each other. They displayed tremendous love and concern for the welfare of others.
The Ribono Shel Olam’s stance is: if this is what you do, display love and concern for your fellow Jews, hear each other’s cries, then I also will hear your cries. Since you are a family, I’m your Father and, I will take you out even though you don’t deserve it. We were in the galus--exile for two hundred years but should have been exiled for four hundred. That is what the “gam” means, that I “also” have heard. Their acknowledgement and concern for each other is what redeemed them from the terrible exile of Egypt.
We determine the relationship between us and G-D, a relationship so powerful that He will do incredible things for us, even in the midst of a terrible exile. This is the second dimension of loshon ha’ra. It moves, shifts, the position of G-D from a Father to a King which can be exceedingly detrimental to ourselves.
Third Dimension: Unity Versus Fragmentation
Where does the soul of a Jew come from? It’s really the flip side of the shechina--Divine Presence. It’s like a coin that has heads and tails. The Ribono Shel Olam created the neshama--soul from the shechina--Divine Presence. That is why the chazal--sages say that we are a “chelek elokai mimal”--a portion of the shechina itself. This is knesses Yisrael--unity, community of Israel. What this means is that G-D created a “grand neshama” and split it. The only being in the history of the world to have this singular grand neshama was Adam Ha’Rishon--primordial man. He was so great, qualitatively, that the angels thought he was G-D and starting singing shira--praises to him. Whoever possesses such a neshama displays an awesome type of being.
Then G-D split the neshama into fragments and invested in each fragment a separate consciousness. This is the second split.
Then each neshama, each itself a fragment, was split again, each one receiving either a zachor--masculine side or nekeva--feminine side.
So, we see there were three great splits: the neshama as a fragment from G-D Himself, the investment of further splits with a singular consciousness, then each fragment split again to be invested with either a masculine or feminine consciousness.
The underlying principal of ahavas Yisrael is that it allows the Jews to “reunite with themselves,” the concept of “achdus”--unity. When the Jews display ahavas Yisrael toward each other, they unite what was disunited with that split between the “grand neshama” and each individual soul. That is what is achieved with love from Jew to Jew. It doesn’t need a separate phenomenon. When Jews love each other, automatically, G-D unites with them, joins with them the way it used to be. Ahavas Yisrael is the instrument that we employ to undo all the splits that G-D created at the inception of Creation. Where do we see this?
This is demonstrated at matan Torah--giving of the Torah. It says in the Torah of this event, “v’yichan Yisrael neged ha’har”-- the Jews encamped beside the mount to receive the Torah. Rashi points out that it says “v’yichan” in the singular when it should read as “v’yachnu” which is the plural verb. Why the singular? Rashi explains it is because, when they stood at Sinai, they displayed great unity. As Rashi articulates it, they were as “ish echad”--one man “b’lev echad”--with one heart. As a consequence of that love for each other, G-D appeared to them automatically.
The amount of ahavas Yisrael displayed determines the amount of gilui--revelation that G-D exhibits when He reunites with them. The revelation was greatest at the giving of the Torah because that was when the Jews demonstrated the greatest love of each other. It was also the greatest revelation of G-D that the world has ever known.
This is a demonstration of the principle of mida-kneged-mida--measure for measure, therefore, we see that ahavas Yisrael is critical to remove all the splits. So, what is the greatest destroyer of ahavas Yisrael?--loshon ha’ra. What do you think happens to a Jew who hears the degradation on the subject of another Jew? You think he will have ahavas Yisrael?--of course not. It also creates sina-hatred, animosity.
This is the exact opposite of what G-D wants, the achdut--unity of the Jewish people. What’s even more critical is that it destroys the ability of the Jews to reunite spiritually, metaphysically, and with G-D Himself.
We can now begin to understand and discern answers to questions that are raised on certain teachings of the chazal--sages. There’s a Gemara that says that there was a certain individual that came in front of the great sage, Shammai, and said he wants to learn the entire Torah standing on “regel achas”-- one leg. Shammai obviously thought he wasn’t serious, meant it literally, so Shammai dismissed him. This individual then went to Hillel and made the same request. Hillel told him something that is both interesting and has become famous. “Let that which you despise do not do to your chaver--neighbor, fellow” which is the inverted way of saying, “love your neighbor as yourself.” Hillel says that this is the great yesod--foundation of the Torah.
It’s true that this value is important but is this the entire Torah and the way Hillel would answer this individual? Why is Hillel using “v’avavta l’reacha kamocha”--and you will love your neighbor as yourself as the basis for his response? I’m sure that if anybody else would have approached with such a request, that sage would probably have picked “Shema Yisrael Ha’Shem Elokeinu Ha’Shem Echad”--Hear O Israel, G-D is Master, G-D is One. That idea is the one most associated with Torah, not the one Hillel chose. Was he exaggerating?--of course not! We now understand that the major objective of Creation is to remove the disunity, the fragmentation, in order to remedy that pirud--separation that He engendered in klal Yisrael--the community of Israel. The way to do that is through ahavas Yisrael. Hillel was right.
Fourth Dimension: Loshon Ha’Ra Tantamount to the Three Great Sins
Chazal tell us that there are three sins that, if you are asked to transgress them, there’s a halacha which demands that we must allow ourselves to be killed rather than transgress them. These commandments are: adultery/incest, committing bloodshed, idolatry. Ever wonder why these three sins have this unusually severe law? If the major objective is to repair the fragmentation between male-female (via marriage), between a Jew and his fellow Jew through love, and between man and G-D also through love of one’s fellow, then these three sins stipulated for ultimate self-sacrifice of one’s life actually intensify the split.
Incest/adultery comes between a man and his wife intensifying the split between masculine and feminine. Murder aggravates the split between man and his fellow (Jew), and idolatry aggravates the split between man (the Jew) and G-D. G-D could say: My desire for you to reunify is so great that these three sins which intensify the split must not be transgressed. Death, allowing oneself to be killed, is preferable. This is a critical understanding.
There’s another question we can answer. Chazal tell us that the destruction of the Temple was due to the committing of these three sins. Why? We have the answer. If the purpose, the objective is achdus, then we realize how these sins unravel that unity or the prospect of it. The result? G-D will leave and so the Temple was destroyed.
What does all this?--loshon ha’ra. It is clearly the major way Jews subject each other to defamation and create animosity. Now we understand why the Beis Ha’Mikdash was not destroyed by the three aveiros that one is commanded to sacrifice one’s life rather than commit. It is sinas chinam--baseless hatred generated most often by loshon ha’ra. The chazal tell us, the Chofetz Chaim tells us, that the sin was really loshon ha’ra. It’s sinas chinam--baseless hatred fostered by defamatory speech, that destroys achdus. Such defamatory speech is equal in its power to those three sins in destroying unity. When a man hates his wife, or Jew hates Jew, the pirud--separation caused by such hatred replicates what all three aveiros do themselves. So sinas chinam thru loshon ha’ra is as powerful as those three sins in its destructive capability.
Let’s now look at another aspect of this dimension, one that is frightening. We know from the Gemara that the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva died within five weeks. His was the biggest yeshiva the world had ever seen. Why did they die? The chazal tell us that they didn’t treat each other respectfully. It says they died during those five weeks from “askara” which is a breathing disorder. If a person speaks loshon ha’ra they will die from such a breathing disorder so the real sin of the 24,000 students was loshon ha’ra and that is the way they expressed their lack of honor. The Chofetz Chaim brings this down.
Do we know what it means that the greatest yeshiva of all time evaporated in five weeks? Imagine we’re in heaven and we’re watching the two angels battling it out as to what will happen to the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva. The defending angel is begging the court, begging G-D, saying: don’t do this! Why? Rabbi Akiva is a ta’ana, someone with an extraordinary level of greatness, someone who can write the Mishna. If Rabbi Akiva is such a person, then all his students are tana’im. That means that 24,000 tana’im were killed! What are to be the repercussions of that? The Torah that they would have generated…
Imagine walking into a bookstore and seeing thousands and thousands of seforim--books on Judaism. Then, consider how many tens of thousands more there would have been had the students survived. The malach--angel could observe: look at all the Torah that will be missing, be absent, until mashiach comes.
There’s something else, and this is what the angel is saying. There are two types of great scholars, two types of sages of Israel. There is the talmid chacham, a godol that, in and of himself, gives over tremendous yedias ha’Torah--Torah concepts. He can teach many and influence them--fine.
There is a second kind of godol, one involved in the transmission of Torah itself and is critical to the Torah’s transmission from generation to generation. Without him, the Torah does not proceed to the next generation. Without him, the transmission process is broken. Who’s an example? In the last generation, we had Rebbe Aaron Kotler who is a classic example. Had he not survived the war, chas v’sholom--G-D forbid, what would have been? All the yeshivas, the spin-offs generated due to him would not exist today. What would be of Torah in America? Not only was he a godol ha’dor--great scholar among those of his generation, but he was pivotal to the transmission process itself. So, the angel said that if Rabbi Akiva’s students are taken, what will become of the ensuing generation? An adverse judgement will endanger the transmission of Torah.
There’s a third concept. Rebbe Akiva, as great as he was, was still human. What does that indicate? Let’s take an example.
Imagine a guy who’s 75-years-old and it’s taken him that long to amass a fortune of a hundred million dollars. Somebody comes to him and says, “Listen! I got a great real estate enterprise venture I’d like to offer you.” The wealthy multi-millionaire agrees to invest however it turns out to be a bad investment and he lost ninety-nine million dollars in two weeks. What will happen to this person? It’s either a case of taking a large dose of Prozac because his depression will be off the charts or he will commit suicide. To take that which a man labored for his entire life and destroy it almost overnight will, literally, destroy the person.
Similarly, the angel argued that, were such done to Rebbe Akiva--an aged man-- what could that do to him; it may destroy him. If that happens, he may not be able to recuperate and transmit the Torah to the generation. Fortunately, Rebbe Akiva was not like we are; he was able to regenerate the Torah itself through the five talmidim--scholars he had. No one knew for sure if this would happen so the angel argued as he did.
On the other side was the Satan, the great prosecuting attorney. He argued that: no, You must destroy the students. What were the arguments? These were Torah sages and are being m’vaze--dishonorable toward each other. How can this be permitted? A person who learns Torah of that caliber must be respected. If one disrespects such a learned and honorable person, it shows that he, himself, does not understand the importance, the greatness of Torah. If each of these students are not honoring each other, it indicates that there’s a lack of understanding of what Torah does to a person, what the significance of Torah is.
The final argument of the Satan was the most devastating, the clincher. He argued that the 24,000 students will transmit the Torah and be the model to their generation of what proper observance is. Do you want the Jewish people to learn that it is permissible to speak loshon ha’ra? That is what the generation will garner from these model teachers.
G-D agreed that this could not be allowed to happen even if it meant that the transmission of Torah could be jeopardized, even if it meant that Rebbe Akiva could not restore himself to the position of teaching so many others and even though it would mean that there would be an enormous absence of Torah. So, they died. What an unbelievable tragedy!
The sin of loshon ha’ra is so great that it destroyed the greatest yeshiva of all time and all its students. That should send a shudder down the spine. Even that which is dear to G-D--the Torah, the Temple--will be cancelled if the Jews degrade each other and create great animosity toward each other. G-D agrees to destroy His Torah rather than allow His people to denigrate and foster baseless hatred among each other.
Fifth Dimension: Trigger of Judgement
Let’s look now at a fifth dimension of this sort of speech. What I’m about to say is even more pivotal, more fundamental, and even more significant than even these I’ve already spoken about. We know that when we sin, we are judged by the beis din she’l’mala--the heavenly tribunal. When are we judged? When does the court convene? Is it when the sin is committed? No, it’s not. There’s only one angel that can invoke such judicial proceedings. He is the great m’katreg--prosecutor called the “Satan.”
He has three functions. As yetzer ha’ra--evil inclination, he enters our psyches to tempt us to sin. If he succeeds in tempting us, he then prosecutes us. If we are found guilty, he becomes what is called the “malach ha’maves”--Angel of Death. It’s not that he always kills people, but he is responsible to execute the judgement and carry out the sentence. Therefore, we see something very important; there is no judicial process without a kitrug--prosecutorial action, but we have to ask ourselves: what initiates the judicial action if it isn’t the sin when it occurs?
The answer lies in a concept I’ve mentioned before: mida k’neged mida--measure-for-measure. When you speak loshon ha’ra, what are you really doing? You’re degrading another person so G-D institutes this fundamental principle which dictates that, should you condemn another, you too become subject to possible condemnation in the heavenly tribunal. The Satan has the right to do so because of this principle of “measure-for-measure.” When a person speaks loshon ha’ra, he invokes his own prosecution by the Satan.
Consider a phone conversation, the duration of which is perhaps an hour, in which you’ve spoken 500 words of loshon ha’ra. This means that you are to be prosecuted and judged 500 times! Do you know what that means, to be judged 500 times in the space of an hour?
Who is judged?--the speaker and the listener. Mida-kneged-mida operates there too. The court says that if a person heard loshon ha’ra, then the court will want to hear condemnations against him as part of the prosecution by the Satan.
The subject of the loshon ha’ra is also subject to scrutiny for something called “ayin ha’ra”--evil eye. When a Jew questions the status of another Jew, he is able to invoke a judicial investigation about that person to see if he deserves that status. That person may be found to deserve what he has or not. Most of the things we have are not deserved. We have them because the Ribono Shel Olam loves us and gives them to us anyway. If we are subject to the ayin ha’ra and the court investigates us as to our worthiness and we’re found to be unworthy, we will lose those things.
So, the loshon ha’ra puts at risk the speaker, the listener, and even he who is spoken of. On any given day, 90% of the Jewish people are being judged for speaking, listening to, or being spoken about in a derogatory way. We begin to understand why the Jewish people have such tragedies befalling them.
Where is the basis of this idea that loshon ha’ra creates prosecution? The Chofetz Chaim has brought this down many times. It’s also brought down by Rabbi Chaim Vital who was a student of the Arizal, also by the Dubner Maggid and other chazal. The secret of the devastating impact is that it initiates the prosecutions and judgements against you.
We take a look around and wonder why people don’t have good mazal--fortune. Jews do a great many mitzvahs therefore they should have much more good fortune than they have. It’s because of loshon ha’ra initiating that process. Because a person is constantly in the process of judicial inquiry, the mazal he should have isn’t realized. We destroy our own mazal because we’re always putting ourselves in court and, as a result, the Satan is removing that which we would otherwise deserve and is subjecting us, instead, to tragedies and punishment.
What if someone does not speak loshon ha’ra? It’s an umbrella effect. If you don’t speak, the Satan can’t argue against you. In the Dubner Rav’s book “Ohel Ya’akov,” it says that, if a person abstains from loshon ha’ra, it is almost impossible--not totally, but almost--for the Satan to prosecute that person. If a person doesn’t listen, it is also within the purview of the principle of measure-for-measure. The court will say that they will not listen to a case against a person because the defendant refrained from listening to the gossip or defamation offered to them. If they are the subject of derogatory speech, yet don’t engage in such practice themselves, then the ayin ha’ra they could be subjected to cannot be heard as evidence against them. The court will not listen to the prosecution’s loshon ha’ra, measure-for-measure.
You have to ask yourself: is it worth it to speak loshon ha’ra? The answer is, of course not! Why would anybody want to put himself in harm’s way, to be judged? It’s not only he himself who is at risk but his family. Is it worth the short-lived satisfaction?
Sixth Dimension: Diversion and Subservience
There is yet another dimension, one that is responsible for the enormous number of tragedies that transpire to the Jewish people. G-D sends forth a shefa--Divine flow which creates and sustains all Creation. Everyone is connected to G-D by this force that flows from Him. It’s like an invisible cable that connects us to G-D and we exist because of it.
In the beginning, Adam ha’Rishon--primordial man was commanded to refrain from eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. In fact, his task was to ignore the advice of the knowledge the Satan was using to tempt him to eat from that tree, but he ate from it anyway. G-D told him: until now, your job was to ignore the advice of the Satan, but you didn’t. You gave him credibility and, therefore, existence. As a result, there’s a new job. Not only is mankind to ignore his advice, his task is to destroy him, destroy evil itself.
But how can we destroy him? He’s an angel. What G-D did was to connect the “cable” to the Satan. Now both man and the Satan are connected to it. Picture a cable coming from G-D and one side connects to mankind but, ultimately, to the Jews, and one side connects to the Satan. This configuration that resembles a “Y” is complicated by the fact that there is only enough sustaining force for one side to exist or to flourish. Clearly then, whoever gets the shefa of kedusha--holiness, whoever gets this Divine force, will flourish and survive. We are, therefore, in a relationship of combat with the Satan because both he and we are vying for the same force. What determines which side gets the force? If we, the Jewish people do mitzvos, the force comes to us. As a result of that, we survive. If there’s enough of our good service, we flourish and the Satan grows ever weaker. Ultimately, if all the Jewish people do all the mitzvos, the Satan will, actually, literally, die.
What happens if the Jewish people sin? Negative things happen. The Jews weaken while the Satan grows very strong. It’s a see-saw, an inverse relationship. When we are great, he is weak. If we don’t get the holiness because we sin, he gets strong. We are unequal in the level of existence that we have in relation to evil. When does he get that flow of holiness due to our sin? Is it when we sin?--no. He has to wait until we are judged. Once we are judged and found to be guilty, then he gets this awesome flow of holy energy that would have come to us, the Jews. This concept of receiving this flow is termed “yunika”--nourishment. He nourishes from our Divine energy.
Remember now what I said about the process of judgement in the Divine tribunal, that 90% of the prosecutions that land us in court are due to having spoken or listened to loshon ha’ra. The Satan must get us into court so he must get us to speak loshon ha’ra. When we do, he gets his nourishment. Even if we have other sins, we are less likely to be judged for them, which is remarkable.
This is why it is so difficult for us to guard our tongues. The Satan’s drive to survive compels him to continually tempt us to speak loshon ha’ra. It is a result of this connection we have to him. When we sin, most frequently due to speaking denigratingly of other Jews, the Holy energy is diverted to the Satan. What does he do with it? He gives it to the nations, empowering them to destroy us.
Let’s understand this better. Klal Yisrael has two interesting properties derived from G-D, beauty and might. The shechina has two interesting attributes, tiferes--beauty and oz--might. “Beauty” is chochma--wisdom, understanding and knowledge. Oz is the ability to have hatzlacha--success, good fortune. The Jewish nation should have both of these but when the Satan takes our shefa, we relinquish that tiferes and oz, that wisdom, knowledge and hatzlacha relinquished to the Satan who gives it to the goyim. The true tragedy of klal Yisrael is not only that we lose these, but that we’ve given these to the Satan to give to the nations to destroy us.
It says in our davening, “How long will Your might be in captivity and Your beauty be in the hands of our enemies?” This refers to the fact that we give up this enormous amount of holy energy we ourselves should be getting. It’s in the hands of the Satan, the hands of the enemy.
Ever walk around Manhattan and look around at the magnificence of its towers and edifices? Ever compare the institutions of higher learning, colleges and universities with their beautiful campuses with the grounds of yeshivas? In comparison, yeshivas look so dilapidated. What’s going on? The ones who have the power are the goyim; the Jews are subservient to them. It’s because the chochma and tiferes have been given over to them. Our might and success, our beauty and wisdom, are given over to them. Our loshon ha’ra has done this. This is the real tragedy of tisha b’av, and the tragedy, in general, of the Jewish people.
Seventh Dimension: Contamination and Repugnance
I’ll now talk about the seventh dimension, and let me warn you; if you think you’ve heard frightening information until now, the seventh dimension will have your hair standing on end. It has gargantuan impact on us.
Ever wonder why it is that: I daven, day in and day out, for years, and it seems as though G-D doesn’t listen to me. Many of my prayers don’t seem to have any impact, any effect. It’s can’t be because I’m insincere; I am sincere.
Why is it that so much of what we ask for goes unanswered?
The answer is a frightening concept. The Chofetz Chaim says, quoting a Zohar: “mi sheyesh bo loshon h’ara, ayn tefilloso nichneses lifnei ha’kodosh baruch hu”--he who speaks loshon ha’ra causes his prayers to be denied entry before G-D. Why? The Satan is permitted to cover it, envelop it with tuma--contamination, a spirit of unholiness. Imagine what this means! G-D won’t listen to it, no matter its sincerity.
Lest you think this is the only problem we have, let me quote you another Chofetz Chaim. Listen carefully because this has to apply to every single Jew who learns Torah, particularly those yeshiva students who sit and learn Torah all day long and those who learn Daf Yomi.
The Chofetz Chaim says that somebody who is always open to speak loshon ha’ra and doesn’t heed warnings to be careful, even if that person learns, the entire shishas sidrei Mishna, all 4,000 mishnayos of the six orders of the Mishna and the entire Shas: 2711 blat—pages, many times, when he goes to heaven, he will not find even one word of Gemara that should protect him. Every piece of Torah he learned will be contaminated and it is repugnant to look at it.
With even stronger emphasis, the Chofetz Chaim says that this is why, at the end of the prayer “Shemona Esrei,” we say, “G-D, please guard my tongue from speaking evil.” Since speaking loshon ha’ra contaminates the Torah that we learn, we first ask that G-D guard our tongues before we ask that He open our hearts to learning Torah. If you don’t stop speaking evil, your Torah is worthless, He imparts. Did you ever hear anything like this before?
Imagine, a guy dies having finished Shas many times. He figures that when the gets “up there” ---ooh-wah!--they’re going to roll out a vast red carpet for him. Instead, he gets to shamayim and they ask him, “So, what do you want?”
“What do I want?” he reacts incredulously. “I’m here to collect for all the Torah I learned.”
“Collect? Collect what?”
“I learned thousands of hours and pages of Gemara.”
“Excuse me! Did you ever look at the Torah you learned? Remember all the loshon ha’ra you spoke, all the reputations you ruined, the lives you damaged, all the hate you instigated? Are you aware that the Satan, as a result of your evil speech, was able to contaminate every word you learned and so your Torah is saturated with the spirit of pollution and, therefore, worthless?”
Imagine the look on this man’s face! This is what the Chofetz Chaim says, that loshon ha’ra destroys the worth of Torah. Imagine, too, a guy going through 2007 pages and, at the end he joins the Agudah Convention where he celebrates the completion of his labor of seven years of studying Shas feeling assured that he will be rewarded. What shock and astonishment await him if he’s tainted all his efforts by speaking and/or listening to loshon ha’ra! This is what the Chofetz Chaim says and he doesn’t exaggerate.
Why is this so, that our Torah is worthless and our prayers don’t enter the chamber of G-D’s consideration if we speak or give credibility to denigrating speech? How is it possible that the Satan has the ability to enclose our Torah with ruach tuma--spirit of contamination and pollution making it unavailable to us in Olam Ha’Ba--Future World?
The answer to these questions is based on certain kabbalistic ideas which you must know. Remember, this is critical to you.
Imagine a guy invests in various businesses for years and puts his wealth into a bank but, little does he know, the bank has a “hole” in it and all the money he has in his account is dropping out. The guy realizes years later asking himself: what was the point of all the years of investment, the years studying on Wall Street trying to analyze what are the best investments? I’ve lost it all. I’ve made the dire mistake of not preserving my investments. This exemplifies what the Chofetz Chaim means.
We invest in Torah learning and prayer but we don’t preserve the purity of what we’ve labored to accomplish. Speaking loshon ha’ra is like putting worms atop your food to consume every last morsel though you spent hours cooking the dish.
The Mechanism: Sefiros
Another analogy: There’s rain in clouds and this rain pours down to the earth and is collected in a reservoir. The reservoir contains networks of pipes to bring the water to your home and all the way to your faucets. There it stops and you must open the valve to allow the water to pour into a vessel. This is a good analogy to understand the Divine energy, the flow of holiness, that G-D directs from Himself to us. G-D created everything using ten forces and they can be compared to rain. The Ribono Shel Olam--G-D created the world using ten forces and these are the conduits that bring the kedusha to us.
The first three of the ten can be compared to the reservoir which collects the “torrent” of rain, or Divine energy, or kedusha. The next six are equivalent to the pipes in the home and the faucet. The sixth sefira, “yesod,” as it’s called in Kabbalah, is like the faucet. This sefira is what gives us the energy and flows into the tenth called, “malchus”--sovereignty which creates and sustains the entirety of Olam Ha’Ze--this Universe.
The pivotal position of these ten forces is the ninth, yesod, because, if the “faucet” is closed, no water will pour into the tenth. If, however, the valve is open, then a tremendous amount of flow pours forth. If the ninth sefira, yesod, is open, then the energy pours into malchus, our world, and energizes us with awesome shefa of kedusha. If it is closed, or the flow is diminished to a trickle, we suffer greatly because the entire state of existence and its quality is determined by the amount of flow from the ninth sefira, yesod, into the tenth, malchus.
The human body is a model of those ten forces. The human form represents, or is a parallel to, those ten forces. Besides the human body being a model, there’s something else that is unique. It’s a “trigger” for those forces. When a person performs a mitzvah with a certain organ, a parallel area is opened up among the Divine forces allowing kedusha to flow into malchus from yesod. So, the human form is a trigger aside from being a parallel structure.
Besides the fact that the entire ten are represented in the human form, the head itself represents the ten forces on an even higher level. Therefore, if you think about it, the mouth and the tongue represent yesod and malchus. That’s right! This is the analogy of the faucet to the vessel into which the energy flows. A person speaks loshon ha’ra with the organs of the mouth and tongue and, because these are the organs that parallel yesod and malchus, the flow becomes contaminated by the Satan. Even if Divine energy flows from yesod, the faucet, it is as if the energy flowed through a rusty pipe.
Think about tefilla-prayer and Torah and the organs of the mouth and tongue we use to pray and to learn Torah. Torah and tefilla are especially affected by loshon ha’ra. They become spiritually defiled. Very little of our prayer and study “get through” so it is not listened to by G-D and the Torah doesn’t protect you or give you merit in Olam Ha’Ba.
What do we do then? The chazal tell us that doing teshuva--acts of repentance, removes the tumah that envelops prayer and Torah study. This is the remedy. Everyone who learns Torah and Daf Yomi, all who daven--pray, must be concerned with contamination we inflict upon our prayer and the Torah itself. Don’t be that person who, after he dies after 75 years of life and serving G-D, finds out that all the Torah and tefilla he did is, fundamentally, worthless. We must do teshuva NOW and must stop speaking loshon ha’ra.
Let me conclude by bringing down the words of the Vilna Gaon. If you were living next to him and went into his house and asked him, “What’s it all about? What do I have to do? What’s the essence of getting Olam Ha’Ba?” would you give credibility to the Vilna Gaon’s answer?
Let me tell you what he says about the essential instrument that would get you Olam Ha’Ba more assuredly than any other mitzvah. He says that the essential element to merit the Future World is guarding one’s tongue. This concept of guarding one’s tongue is more essential than all the Torah you will ever learn and all other mitzvahs--the good deeds, the acts of kindness--that you will ever do.
Why? He says that the mouth and what comes out of it is the holy of holies to G-D. Just like the kodesh ha’kedoshim is the holiest place on earth, so holy that the angels could not pass through it, the mouth is as such. Keeping it holy is the essence of what G-D wants. We now understand this.
What does a person get if he guards his tongue? Besides what I’ve spoken of here so far, besides there being no prosecutions in the Heavenly Court, besides having great mazal, good fortune, besides creating ahavas Yisrael, The Vilna Gaon says that for every second that a person closes his mouth and guards his tongue, he merits to see the concealed Light, the Light of the mashiach, the Light of Olam Ha’Ba which is what we’re all awaiting. There is no angel, no creature, that can possibly estimate or understand such rewards. Let me tell you something; angels are pretty smart. There are those who have I.Q.s which are “off the chart.” Could you imagine meriting a reward that they can’t even comprehend for even one second?
Now you understand why G-D gave four different mitzvahs at five different times in the communication process to stop loshon ha’ra from being spoken, why G-D was so vigilant, why it’s so significant to Him that you refrain from such speech. Look at all the seven dimensions that’s I’ve delineated and think about it. The truth is that you can speak much more elaborately on each one of those dimensions, but I’ve spoken about it b’kitzer--briefly, abbreviatedly, in order to fit it in here.
Ask yourself if it’s worth it to indulge in loshon ha’ra. Of course, it’s not! You destroy ahavas Yisrael, give energy to the Satan to destroy us by empowering the nations of the world. You give away our beauty and might and success which we should have because you contaminated Torah and render prayer ineffective.
And if you refrain? In the end, it’s like this.
Imagine a king walking by a lake and, in that lake, his wife and children are in a rowboat when, suddenly, a terrific storm blows up and overturns the boat which starts sinking. The king’s wife and kids are drowning and the king is horrified watching them drown. He sees one of his soldiers near the lake, much nearer the disaster than he. He yells out to this soldier, “Save my family!” The soldier obeys. What do you think this king will give this soldier as a reward for having obeyed the king’s command? Will the reward be simply for his obedience?--no. The reward is inestimable.
The same can be said about guarding one’s speech. By doing so, not only do you save your fortune, save the Jewish people from all the tragedies, but you weaken and ultimately destroy the Satan. For the Jews, there is no equal to this sin or refraining from it. Remember too that to properly observe the mitzvos of shmiras ha’loshon, guarding one’s speech, you must learn the laws which are very complex, intricate, and numerous. Many laws can apply to one situation. You must learn the law to be completely familiar with what to do in any given situation.
Let’s hope that this year, 5767 (2017), as a result of guarding one’s speech, we will restore the greatness of the Jewish people, bring the mashiach, and reunite G-D with us. What a day that would be!