Tonight, I’m presenting a shiur—lecture/lesson on loshon ha’ra—evil speech, on shmiras ha’loshen—guarding one’s tongue. Before I begin, I’d like to start with a very interesting story about the Chofetz Chaim.
The source of the story is Rav Shalom Shwadron. One of the best bocharim, Torah students at the academy where he was rosh yeshiva—principal got very drunk on the holiday of Purim. He came to the house of the Chofetz Chaim. His house had a lot of people that night seeing that it was Purim. He pushed his way through the crowd to the front where the Chofetz Chaim was sitting at his table. This student said to him, “Rebbe! Rebbe! Promise me that I can sit next to you in Gan Eden!”
In other words, he wanted the promise that he would be in his haycho—chamber, meaning at whatever level the Chofetz Chaim would be. The Chofetz Chaim answered, “Who knows if I have Gan Eden so how can I promise you?” This is the classic humility of the Chofetz Chaim.
But the student wouldn’t stop. He kept pleading. He was doing this incessantly so the others were trying to push him away probably because it was very embarrassing. Seeing that he was quite drunk, the Chofetz Chaim told those around him to leave him be.
Eventually, the Chofetz Chaim got up to leave to eat the Purim seuda—festive meal and, as he was getting up, the student who was still there barred his way saying, “No! You can’t go until you promise me that I will be with you in Gan Eden. You must promise me!”
Suddenly, the Chofetz Chaim got very serious and said, “I don’t know how much Gan Eden I have but I probably have some because, from the day that I reached understanding, I never listened to or spoke any kind of conversation that would be harmful to people. Therefore, I tell you that, if you promise not to speak or listen to any loshon ha’ra, I will guarantee that you will be next to me in Olam Ha’Ba—Future World.
What an incredible statement by the Chofetz Chaim! For those familiar with the Chofetz Chaim, you know that whatever he said was usually fulfilled.
It’s interesting that this bocher, despite being drunk, perked up and became sober realizing the import of the Chofetz Chaim’s statement. He remained silent, couldn’t say anything because he probably knew that he couldn’t keep the promise, the condition, that the Chofetz Chaim gave him.
At this point, the Chofetz Chaim said, “Here is an individual who stands at the gates of heaven and doesn’t want to go in. Take him away!” and left to eat his seuda.
Very interesting story, a person who almost got to the same level as the Chofetz Chaim but didn’t rise to the occasion.
Let’s consider several ideas regarding the story.
First, it’s important to know that no one can promise you Olam Ha’Ba. The Chofetz Chaim couldn’t promise the student his portion of Olam Ha’Ba, nor Olam Ha’Ba at all. The proof of this was that the Chofetz Chaim didn’t say: you will be with me where I will be in Olam Ha’Ba. He said that it depends on the condition that he observe a certain mitzvah—commandment. The idea is that the commandment of shmiras ha’loshon is so great that the level of Olam Ha’ba this student would have anyway would be of an enormously elevated state . What the Chofetz Chaim could promise him is that: since you’re to be at that elevated state anyway, I will guarantee that I will move you over into my “chamber.”
What we begin to see is that shmiras ha’loshon is enormously great. There is something about guarding one’s tongue from speaking any kind of slander that has an incredible kind of profundity to it. It can almost guarantee that he who observes that commandment achieves a tremendously elevated state in the Future World.
If you take a look at the mitzvah of shmiras ha’loshon, it’s deceptive. It seems easy or, considering it from its other side--that of speaking loshon ha’ra--it seems similarly deceptive. If you examine the mamorei chazal—statements of the sages on this topic, one finds it difficult to understand what they are talking about. If you really take them literally, it’s extremely difficult, but not impossible, to understand.
Two Approaches: Mussar versus Hashkafa
There are two approaches to this subject: the mussar approach is one in which I can exhort you, tell you not to do this and not to do that. I am not going to take that approach for several reasons. First, everybody knows that there’s a mitzvah of shmiras ha’loshon. The approach I will take is the hashkafa approach. What is that? I will not tell you what to do. Instead, I’ll explain the internal mechanism of such speech, the pnimius of it, what happens in reality when you speak loshon ha’ra, how such behaviors interface with the internal design of Creation. When you understand the mechanism, you realize that you can make your own decision as to whether or not you want to engage in loshon ha’ra or not. You have to understand the significance of the act. Based on that, you can ask yourself if you want to engage in it or desist. It’s up to you.
I find that this approach is much greater, far more powerful in its ability to get people to, at least, think about, be more conscious of, loshon ha’ra.
In my attempt to explain these ideas, I’m going to provide a comprehensive framework and, through that, you will not only understand loshon ha’ra but also chazal’s statements concerning this topic and why what they say about it is true.
Defining Loshon Ha’ra
Before I go on, we first must make sure that we all understand what loshon ha’ra is. We need to have common terminology, agree on concepts. I don’t want to speak about one thing and, in your mind, you have a different idea about what I’m talking about or what I mean.
The first thing we need is a definition. How can we define “loshon ha’ra”? Precisely and concisely, it is any communication that can cause damage to another individual, that generates any kind of injury or harm to another individual. In order to be defined as such, it has to be a communication which, itself, must be able to cause damage.
If that is the case, there is something that begins to dawn on us, that the idea of loshon ha’ra emerges from what’s called a “superstructure of hezek—damage.” If somebody causes damage to someone else, he’s a mazek—he who causes damage. How does one cause damage? There are several ways. What are the instruments of hezek—damage that an individual can use?
One of these is the guf—body. If you beat somebody up, murder them, that’s causing damage b’gufo—with the body.
Another instrument is called “memono”—his property. If my cow gores your cow—the classic idea brought down in the Torah—or if my dog bites someone, or If I dig a pit and someone falls into it, or if my sheep eats from someone else’s field, this is the concept of memono—property damage.
The third instrument to employ damage is l’shono—the tongue, one’s conversation.
An individual can create damage in these three ways.
The concept of loshon ha’ra as a communicative device that can create damage is nothing more than a mazek. Someone who speaks loshon ha’ra, is a baal loshon ha’ra—bearer of evil speech, is a mazek. But he does damage via his tongue instead of his body or his possessions. He uses his communication to do damage. The conceptual superstructure is really about hezek. It’s not some kind of mystical thing that some think it is. Someone who speaks loshon ha’ra is a mazek doing damage.
There is always a “sender” who is speaking loshon ha’ra. He is sending forth the damaging report. How does he communicate this loshon ha’ra? There are many ways to do it—and this isn’t known by many people. You can do it by conversation, spoken language. You can participate in a conversation which disparages or denigrates someone else. You can use a sound. Somebody asks “What do you think of Reuven?” and you say, “Eh!” with a tone that conveys disparagement. You can use a facial expression too. You can write something in a social medium; newspapers are loaded with loshon ha’ra. You can use a facial expression. You can signal loshon ha’ra if you know sign language, Morse code; it doesn’t make a difference. The key idea is that any communication, no matter how, no matter the form, can become the instrument of loshon ha’ra. “Communication” can be any form of language whether it be sounded language, spoken language, body language, written language, signal language; it doesn’t make a difference. There’s always a sender and an instrument enabling us to send the message.
The third component is the report, the communication itself, what is said, what is being said, the content, what is being said about a certain subject, about an individual.
The other element is the receiver listening to the loshon ha’ra. It’s a communicative aveira—transgression. The only way you could speak loshon ha’ra is if someone is listening to you. If you’re talking to yourself, it’s not loshon ha’ra. “Communication” always implies a receiver.
When we say that loshon ha’ra is communication which damages, what kind of damage are we talking about? There are four kinds of damage one can do via loshon ha’ra.
First, he can damage someone physically. Were somebody to walk over to somebody and say, “Did you hear what so-and-so did to your son?” and the receiver of this message then walks over the beats the other guy up, the tale-bearer has created physical damage.
The second form of damage is emotional injury. You can embarrass somebody in front of others. That is loshon ha’ra causing great emotional distress.
You can damage someone financially. You can share a business secret about a third party causing the listener to set up his own business, permanently damaging the other business owner.
The fourth way is called “reputational” damage. One of the greatest assets a man or woman has is his good reputation. You can disturb, damage a person more by damaging his reputation than, probably, by any other method. If you speak derogatorily about somebody, you damage his image. This too is “damage.” What’s the damage? That individual’s social status, is social standing, his social acceptance and approval are injured.
All these are true damages and all can be accomplished by using the tongue. We now know a definition, have parameters, components; I call it a “paradigm.” This is the model. The conceptual superstructure of loshon ha’ra is hezek—damage. One who causes this damage is called a “mazek.”
Pertinent Questions and What Chazal Say
We can now begin to ask ourselves certain questions that arise as a result of such an analysis, difficult questions.
The first question is: if loshon ha’ra is only a mazek, if the concept pertains to one who speaks and generates damage as a result, how can we understand why it is so stringent? The Chofetz Chaim enumerates 31 commandments, directly or indirectly, that a person can transgress if he speaks loshon ha’ra. Incredible! He transgresses whether or not the commandment is positive or negative. If somebody damages somebody else, it’s not even considered the transgression of, solely, a negative commandment.
The only negative commandment by damage is if you steal—“lo signov—don’t steal.” If somebody burns a guy’s house down, he has to make recompense, restitution; there’s no question about that. Has he “transgressed” because he burned somebody’s house down?--not really. Of course, he has to pay the guy back, but did he transgress?—not really. With loshon ha’ra, he can transgress 31 commandments; it’s almost inconceivable. How is it you can cause such damage with the tongue, be the instigator of 31 sins, whereas you can damage your body or possessions and there isn’t any kind of transgression associated with it? These are complicated questions to answer. Since we understand that loshon ha’ra is “only” a mazek, it doesn’t make sense why there are so many commandments associated with it.
The next question is based on another chazal which is provoked based on a Gemara that says that Rebbe Alexander entered the marketplace and said, “mi boyes chaiei?”--who wants to live. It’s a famous chazal. Of course, people gathered round; everybody wants to live! Who doesn’t want to live?
They asked him, “What do you have?” They obviously thought he was selling some kind of elixer to prolong life.
“No,” he said, “I’m not selling medicine. I’ll quote you a pasuk—verse. ‘He who desires life, desist from speaking evil’.” What he meant, in essence, was: you people are making a big mistake. You believe that, in order to live a long life, you’ve got to involve yourselves in some kind of physical exercise like jogging, aerobics, something like that. That’s a big mistake. There is a spiritual path that truly allows you to live long right here, not the Future World, and promotes that long sought-after longevity. What is that path? Don’t speak loshon ha’ra! It’s a remarkable idea.
There’s an actual commandment that promotes life here. It is important to understand that “long life” means that you live into your 90’s with good health. You don’t have Alzheimer’s or other diseases of the aged. There’s no point living to 95 and being senile in a wheelchair. You, basically, function quite well.
A question we must ask is: what in the world is Reb Alexander talking about? How is it possible that somebody who does not damage somebody else with his conversation should live long? What does one have to do with the other? He’s not just giving them a fruma idea, some kind of “religious” idea. He’s telling me that there is a true internal connection between the mitzvah of shmiras ha’loshon—guarding one’s tongue and the fact that you can promote life. What does it mean? Why? What is the framework that, obviously, chazal understood? That’s why, to us, it looks like voodoo magic.
There is another similar chazal. It’s in the Gemara. It says, “If you want to live, it’s up to your tongue. If you want to die, it’s up to your tongue.” This supports the famous saying that “llfe and death are in the hand of the tongue.” The Gemara is saying that, if you want to live long, it’s up to you. If you want to die—not merely saying you don’t care about living long--then talk loshon ha’ra. It’s explicitly saying, “if you want to die,” if you want to make sure you’ll die young or, if you don’t care about having a lot of problems, then go ahead and speak loshon ha’ra.
It's unintelligible, seems a mystery.
There’s another famous verse from “Mishlei,” Book of Proverbs, which says, “He who guards his tongue and mouth will guard himself from all kind of problems that affect one’s soul.” Not only will you live long, you won’t have tzuras—troubles, calamities, catastrophes, upset. Those things which invade other peoples’ lives, you’ll be free of.
There’s a midrash—exegetical commentary, a mind-bogging one, which quotes G-D. The midrash says, “G-D says, ‘from any kind of tzura, I can save you’.” From any sickness, financial worry, emotional distress, drug addiction—whatever—"I can save you,” says G-D. The condition is that we refrain from speaking loshon ha’ra. The midrash points out that, aside from living long, life will be relatively tranquil. You will live out your life in relative peace and tranquility.
It's interesting what the Chofetz Chaim says about this. He makes the remarkable statement that it is possible to guard one’s tongue. People mistakenly think that guarding one’s tongue will mean the end of conversation. That’s false. Even if you think it’s impossible—which it isn’t--the Chofetz Chaim says that it’s worth to shut your mouth the rest of your life in order to get this promise from G-D fulfilled, that He will save us from every kind of tzura. It’s a trade-off that’s worth it. That’s how great this havtocha—promise from G-D is!
Chazal say that, even if Jews oved avoda zara--worship idols, which is the greatest sin of all, as long as they refrain from speaking loshon ha’ra, the Satan, the heavenly prosecutor, cannot touch them. In other words, even if Jews commit the worst possible sins, they needn’t worry.
That’s followed up by another chazal in the same vein. The generation of Achav, one of the kings of Israel, was spared in war despite their worship of idols; not one soldier fell. Could you imagine having a war and every soldier returns alive? The whole generation worshipped idols; it doesn’t make sense. The Gemara asks why that was true. It answers that there were no ba’alei loshon ha’ra—frequent speakers of loshon ha’ra in that generation of Achav. They have proof because Ovadia, the prophet, hid over 100 prophets and nobody informed on him to the king.
In contrast, we have the generation of King Saul, that generation of the father of King David, among whom the amount of Torah was so great that the children were able to learn Torah in such depth as to be able to expound on each verse of Torah in 49 ways—forget about the adults! The children could do this. Can you imagine the spiritual level that was present in the days of Saul? Yet it says that when they went to war, they used to die. Why?—loshon ha’ra. What’s the connection?
One generation worships idols and yet no one died when they warred. Another generation whose children could expound upon Torah with greater ability than the g’dolim--masters of today experiences high levels of mortality. Why? How can a commandment which is, basically, a mazik, wield such incredible power?
If you think that’s something, this is even more mysterious: The “Yerushalmi” (Jerusalem Talmud) says the following: “Just as the reward for learning Torah is greater than all mitzvos combined,”—which we know—“the punishment for the sin of loshon ha’ra is worse than any sin you could commit.” It sounds like a “religious” chazal, but it’s not. When chazal, the rabbanim, tell you something, especially in the Gemara in the midrash, it’s incredibly precise. We have to understand where they’re coming from. What do they understand about loshon ha’ra that we don’t? They’re saying that there is no aveira--transgression that beats loshon ha’ra! You can commit adultery, worship idols, murder; it doesn’t matter. The greatest sin is loshon ha’ra, just as the greatest mitzvah is learning Torah. It is completely incomprehensible.
This truth is verified by yet another chazal. “For anyone who speaks loshon ha’ra, it is more kashe—difficult, worse, than all those three sins combined.” Among these three sins, there is one which, rather than commit it, one is obligated to give up one’s life. Were someone to say to you, “I want you to transgress the Sabbath or I’ll kill you,” it’s permitted to transgress it. Only these three commandments mentioned require that one sacrifice one’s life rather than transgress them and yet the Gemara says that loshon ha’ra is worse than the three: adultery, idol worship, murder. It doesn’t make sense.
It also says, “Anybody who speaks loshon ha’ra magnifies his sins up to heaven.” If you think that your denigrating speech only damages somebody here, you’re making a mistake. There is some kind of interaction that you have with heaven. What is that?
In the beginning of the Torah portion, “Shemos,” we find another incredible event. Moshe rabbeinu—our teacher is an Egyptian raised in Pharoah’s house. He goes out among the Jews and sees a Mitzri--Egyptian beating on a Jew. Moshe kills the Egyptian assailant.
He comes back afterward and sees two Jews fighting. Moshe says to one of them, “Why are you beating on your fellow?”
He answers, “Who made you a ruler over us?”
Moshe thought: surely the matter is known. The plain meaning as explained is: surely the matter is known that I killed the Egyptian and this Jew will now inform Pharoah about what I did. That is exactly what happened. Moshe had to flee for his life.
Regarding this, Rashi says in a midrash that such is not really what Moshe meant when he thought “surely the matter is known.” The true meaning, says Rashi, is that Moshe always wondered why the Jews were in such terrible exile, why more so than other nations. Moshe also knew that Jews worshipped idols. We know this because, when they were crossing the Reed Sea, the angels compared the Jews to the Egyptians who also worshipped idols. The angels asked G-D, given their idol worship, why He was saving the Jews and killing the Egyptians. That’s what the midrash points out. The fact that they worshipped idols didn’t bother Moshe in terms of his reasoning about their protracted exile. The fact is, Moshe realized they were speaking loshon ha’ra, that someone tattled to Pharoah that he killed the Egyptian—which constitutes loshon ha’ra—and that is when Moshe realized why the Jews were in their terrible exile, such terrible servitude to the Egyptians.
Why? Avoda zara can’t get them exiled and loshon ha’ra can? This fits. Moshe rabbeinu knew and the sages are reiterating the same idea, that avoda zara itself doesn’t do it. It’s loshon ha’ra that does it all. Even in the Torah it says that you do not get sufferings or subjugation except by loshon ha’ra.
Also, we know that the Jews in the desert had ten trials and they failed every one of them. There’s an interesting chazal that says that our forefathers were tried ten times in the desert and the decree was not sealed that they should die in the desert until the last trial, that of the meraglim—spies. They returned from spying out the Land and slandered G-D and the Land saying that G-D can’t bring us there because those who reside there are too powerful and the Land is not a good land, and so on. That is when the decree that the generation would die in the desert was established, not before. We must understand the fact that they failed all the previous tests but that was not enough to ensure that they would die in the desert. Their fates was sealed because of the last test—loshon ha’ra. Why?
The last chazal I’ll mention is a famous one; the Second Temple was destroyed only because of the sin of loshon ha’ra. Imagine that! The Gemara says that, in the generation of the destruction of the Second Temple, there was an enormous amount of Torah among the Jews but it didn’t save them. Their loshon ha’ra created a torrent of baseless hatred and that was the cause of the destruction. Again, the question is: why?
From that Gemara, we see the significant idea that the reason we don’t have a Beis Ha’Mikdash—Holy Temple is due to loshon ha’ra. If it can destroy the temple, it certainly guarantees that one cannot be built. The main cheit—sin that keeps the temple from being built is loshon ha’ra. Why is this so?
We begin to see one incredible idea. The chazal have a totally different understanding of loshon ha’ra than we do. There is something about it that we don’t begin to appreciate. We think that if we badmouth somebody, denigrate somebody—what’s the big deal? Everybody does it. You do it 1,500 times per day. If you pick up the phone, that’s what’s usually going on but, obviously, from what I’ve mentioned, there is something about loshon ha’ra that is of enormous import and incredible significance.
Whatever you do by speaking loshon ha’ra is mind-boggling and it’s far more than the physical repercussions. We see that there are metaphysical repercussions. What are those metaphysical repercussions? In order to begin addressing this issue, to penetrate the pnimius loshon ha’ra—the inner truth about denigrating speech, what really happens when you speak this way, we need the key to unlock the door. Then, these chazal will be simple to explain.
The Key: Inner Truth of Creation
We need to understand the pnimius of the briya—the inner truth about the Creation without which the understanding of loshon ha’ra’s effects can’t be grasped. When you speak loshon ha’ra, you are really interfacing with Creation in some aspect. What aspects in the mechanism of Creation is one’s loshon ha’ra addressing?
I’d like to begin with a couple of ideas, a summing up the internal design of Creation, an abstraction of these ideas without which we can’t understand loshon ha’ra.
The first idea addresses the question: why did G-D create the universe? Why does He create at all? What does He need it for? Of course, we know He doesn’t “need” it. G-D has no needs. The answer is hatava—goodness. G-D brought things into being to be mativ—a bestower of an infinite state of well-being. He created everything in order that there be a creature, a being, a recipient of an incredible state of well-being; that’s all. Why does G-D want this? We don’t know, but we know He does. We also know that the entity to receive this infinite state of goodness is man.
The next idea is: what, exactly, is this infinite state of well-being? What is this hatava that G-D will give man? Man will know the truth, comprehend the truth of his own emanation. We all emanate from G-D, the source of being. He maintains being but we do not perceive that; it’s concealed from us. The infinite state of well-being will be man’s comprehension of the truth of the nature of his emanation from G-D. In that comprehension is that infinite state of well-being; that is the Future World. That is the reward in Olam Ha’Ba—Future World, the World to Come. It is the understanding, the experience of G-D, not as some kind of external being but as a being which completely gives rise to himself. He feels and perceives his own emanation from G-D.
What is the knowledge he gains in the fact that he comprehends his own emanation?
First, man gains the truth that G-D is the source of all being, including his own.
The second is that, G-D, as the source, is the absolute master of existence. He who gives rise to existence has absolute control of existence itself. He perceives that G-D is yichud shlitoso—absolute Master, ruler, of all Creation.
The third perception the individual will have, and perhaps the most profound, is that G-D IS BEING; G-D doesn’t “have” existence; G-D IS existence, per se. G-D’s essence is that He is existence itself. This perception is the concept of “hasagas yichudo.”---comprehension of the total Oneness of G-D. Therefore, G-D, really, is the only entity that truly exists! We are to perceive the shechina—Divine Presence itself. That is the comprehension, the aspect of the shechina’s Oneness, the totality of being; that is what man will comprehend.
I know I’m proceeding rather rapidly, but these are just introductory ideas to get to loshon ha’ra. Each one can be elaborated upon as complete lectures. The comprehension of the nature of one’s own emanation will be, within that comprehension of G-D’s absolute Oneness of existence, the oneg—pleasure man receives in the Future World.
Regarding the internal design of the Creation--now that we know its purpose—is the concept of “work.” Would G-D decide to give man this eternal goodness as a matana—gift or would man have to earn it? Man would, indeed, have to earn it. For this hasaga—insight, comprehension, man would have work. For this reward, man would have to be its cause.
How does a person achieve this sense of self, his sense of self-worth? What makes a person have self-respect, self-esteem? When a man is productive, achieves goals, that is what gives him these feelings. If a person is a recipient, experiences a sense of what’s called “self-recipiency,” constantly receiving a livelihood or whatever he needs from outside himself, then he loses his sense of self. Man attains a sense of inferiority—an inferiority complex. Therefore, G-D decided that this existential state of infinite goodness must be earned. It will no longer be called a “matana” but a “schar”—reward, the result of effort expended. Man must be responsible for his own Future World.
For this, G-D created a world in which cause-and-effect operates. Why? There must be a world in which nothing happens unless there is a cause before it. That effect itself is a further cause for the next effect because, since G-D decided that man must create his own Future World, there must be the concept of “cause-and-effect.” Man must cause the Future World that he will enjoy. That is the effect. Therefore, this world is governed by this most fundamental law of all.
If that’s the case, there must be two places and two times-frames. There must be a state, a place, where man can earn his Future World, and that is Olam Ha’Ze—this world. Then, there must be a place for man to enjoy his reward; that’s Olam Ha’Ba—Future World. There must be two places. There are two times; this world is, of course, now, and the Future World is, of course, later. The dictate, or what determines that there must be an Olam Ha’Ze and not just an Olam Ha’Ba, is the fact that man must earn his reward.
The Quadratic Structure
This brings us to the next idea. If this is the case, that G-D wants man to earn his comprehension of the absolute Oneness of G-D, He must set up a task for man. Not only must man must be given a task, but the world must have a deficiency that man is tasked to remove. Obviously, if the world is perfect, there’s nothing for a person to do and, therefore, to be rewarded for.
G-D created, therefore, a deficiency in the universe. G-D told man: you must remove it; that’s the task. He gave man the wherewithal, the instrument, by which man can remove this deficiency and fulfill his task.
What, exactly, is this deficiency? The deficiency G-D created is the concealment of the Oneness itself. G-D concealed his own relationship with his Creation. Man must discover, must realize, what this relationship is. It’s called “hester yechudo”—concealment of Oneness. The definition, the dominant feature of Olam Ha’Ze is hester yechudo. This world is an existential state whereby the beings that exist in it are not aware of their Creator, not aware of the Source of their being. That is the definition of Olam Ha’Ze. The concealment of the Oneness of G-D is the deficiency He created. Removing this deficiency is termed “gilui yechudo”—revelation of Oneness; that’s the task.
How does man do it? What is the man’s instrument to achieve this?—commandments, the mitzvos of the Torah. These commandments are not ends in themselves the way most people think, unfortunately. Mitzvos are a means to an end. The mitzvah is the instrument by which a person reveals the Oneness of G-D. Every commandment is a testimony to His Oneness which I can’t get into now. The commandments a person observes, fulfills, testifies, that G-D is the only being that exists. It is the method by which a person achieves the task of gilui yechudo, and removes the deficiency of hester yechudo. Mitzvahs are the vehicle, the instrument.
When a person will have used the instrument termed “aides yechudo”--testifying to the Oneness of G-D, removed the deficiency and accomplished his task, he will experience, in the Future World, the exact amount of yechudo--Oneness that he worked to reveal-- hasagas ha’yichud. This is what I call the “quadratic structure of Judaism.” It is a most fundamental structure. What you do is exactly what you get--no more, no less.
That is why we say “Shema Yisrael Ha’Shem Elokeinu Ha’Shem Echad”—Hear O Israel, the Lord our G-D is One. It’s because, in the end of our lives, a person is supposed to summarize his life by saying this declaration of the true purpose of man which is to reveal the Oneness of G-D. The last letter of the word “shema” is “ayin,” ( (עwritten large, and the last letter of the word “echad” is “daled” (ד ). The two together spell “eid”—witness, he who testifies.
What is the reward? If you reverse the “ayin” and “daled,”--both of which are written large--it spells “dah”—you will know. What will you know? You’ll know “echad”—One. That’s the quadratic structure.
Din and Chesed—Justice and Kindness
G-D created the universe strictly based on justice. What is “justice”? It means that what you do is what you get. If you do “A,” then “B” must result. If you don’t do “A,” then “B” does not transpire. Justice is a reciprocity. That’s what din--justice is.
Man must create his own Olam Ha’Ba. G-D doesn’t create it for you. If you do it, you get it. If you don’t do it, you self-annihilate. The amount you create is the exact amount you get. Since we know that what we get in Olam Ha’Ba is the comprehension of the Oneness of G-D, your efforts will dictate the exact extent to which you will comprehend Him. If you testify to G-D’s Oneness, you get comprehension of G-D’s Oneness. This is cause-and-effect; this is reciprocity.
Maybe you’ll think: wait a minute! What happens if a person doesn’t work so hard. Maybe G-D will overlook it. G-D is a kind G-D. We know that G-D has infinite chassadim—kindnesses and the definition of kindness is to do something without its having been earned. When you do somebody a favor where the person didn’t earn that favor from you, that’s called “chesed”—kindness. You might say: G-D is a tremendous baal chesed—doer of good, an infinite baal chesed, so maybe He’ll overlook the fact that I didn’t earn the Future World.
The answer is: no. There’s a Gemara which points out that, if you think that G-D is a mevater—one who overlooks, pardons, is not exacting, is capricious so perhaps He’ll overlook a few years so what’s the difference, G-D is not. He is not a mevater! There is no such thing. If you don’t do it, you don’t get it.
So, you’re gonna ask me, “Then where is this chesed of G-D? If I must work for my Olam Ha’Ba, must create it myself, then where’s the great chesed of the Ribono Shel Olam—Master of the Universe?”
The answer is that the kindness of G-D is infinite and I will show you that. In loshon ha’ra, we have a mind-boggling chesed which, obviously, cannot be enumerated. The chesed of G-D, fundamentally, interfaces with din. It addresses itself to justice but it’s too extensive to deal with now. We’re going to take one look at G-D’s chesed in the context of loshon ha’ra.
You’re looking at me and thinking: what does loshon ha’ra have to do with the chesed of G-D in ways other than what we already know? We assume that when we speak loshon ha’ra what gets visited upon us is all the tzuras, the destruction of the Temple, exile and so on—but no! The concept of shmiras ha’loshon is one of the greatest hasagim that G-D can do to you.
Internal Design Pertaining to Loshon Ha’Ra
We now begin our entrance into the area of the internal design that relates to loshon ha’ra. Until now, we’ve seen the concept of the quadratic structure, that G-D created a universe that runs absolutely based on din. Not only that, the entire universe pivots upon His Oneness and the entire effort of a man to declare that Oneness in order to experience that Oneness in the Future World.
What is “din” and how does it proceed? Let’s assume that somebody does a sin. How does G-D judge a person, knowing, as we do, that the world is run in accordance with justice? What are the judicial proceedings? Exactly how does the judicial process take place according to G-D?
There are certain fundamental ideas that you have to know and, once we understand those ideas, you’ll understand what loshon ha’ra is and precisely how it interfaces with the mechanism of that internal design.
How does G-D direct the world? He directs the world as an earthly kingdom. The chazal say, “The kingdom of heaven is run similar to the kingdom of earth.” G-D directs the entire heavenly system, the existential sphere which is called “spirit” --not “physicality,”-- conducts it as He does an earthly kingdom. The spiritual realm has courts of justice and these courts have rules and procedures the same as those used to judge men here. Every case that has to be judged comes before this court. Whatever occurs to a person is a result of the decrees, the verdicts, of these heavenly tribunals.
The Ribono Shel Olam influences these spiritual beings that are in charge of administering these courts. G-D influences them to grasp the true, essential nature of each case so that, obviously, the judgement can be true. It’s not like an earthly court where the judges don’t necessarily understand what is really going on. Unfortunately, it’s far more prevalent than we think.
In heaven, it never happens that way. The Ribono Shel Olam is what’s called “mashbia”—sends forth a causative force that enlightens each spiritual being involved in that court process to understand exactly what the true nature of the transgression is, what the motive of the person is, what the circumstances were when the transgression occurred, and so on. Every spiritual being that is involved in that particular case in the heavenly court knows exactly what really happened and that’s in order to render true judgement. Just like in court proceedings here, evidence is presented. No evidence is omitted. It is presented via spiritual beings who testify. There are spiritual beings that, of course, prosecute that individual who is on trial. Evidence is presented and the final decision regarding a certain transgression is issued by the head of the tribunal.
Sometimes, G-D Himself is the head of the court. That doesn’t mean that they “see” G-D. There is no entity that exists that sees G-D. G-D is the only One Who sees Himself. When G-D decides to head the tribunal—it must be very interesting situation when the King of Kings, the Creator Himself, decides to enter the courtroom, a court that emanates from Him and He decides to “sit” in that courtroom—it means that all those other spiritual beings immediately perceive G-D’s presence in the form of head judge. They don’t see Him but they know that He is now presiding; they know it and acknowledge it. In earthly courts, we know that somebody is presiding because we see them. In shamayim—heaven, you know G-D is there but not because you see Him. The knowledge of His presence is given to you.
Why does G-D sometimes head a court? Which kind of trials does He “sit” for? The kind of trial He sits for are those concerning Israel as a nation and, sometimes, those concerning the entire planet, the entire peoples of the earth. For instance, by the dor ha’flaga—the generation of the dispersion who built the tower, it says, “v’yered liros”—and G-D descended to see, meaning that G-D was judging as the head of the court because the entire world was about to be judged.
What is important to understand, the fact that emerges, is that the Ribono Shel Olam does not judge based on His knowledge. G-D needs no court. G-D knows what will be from the first day of Creation, since the first instant of time. G-D does not deal with the world or direct it based on his omnipotence or omniscience. He created an entire system, a judicial system—which is spiritual—and that is how mankind is judged, generally.
Why did He do this? We don’t know. G-D doesn’t need it at all but He decided that the physical world was to be run by an intermediary world called a “spiritual universe.” We don’t know why He does not interface directly with the physical world. Why does he have to operate via spiritual beings? The answer is not known to us. He doesn’t judge man’s sins because of His knowledge. Even though he heads the courtroom, He allows the points of the case to be argued “in front of Him" as if He is not aware, as if it has to be told to Him. The beings in that court know that G-D knows everything and they know that G-D knows the real story. They know that their job is to argue the points of the case. This is what the g’zera is, what the decree of G-D is.
G-D doesn’t judge man based on His knowledge. Courts judge man, not G-d; that’s important to know, That is the first incredible idea, the first chesed we begin to perceive. G-D doesn’t judge man despite the fact that he sinned. It has to be known to the court. If a man sins and it is not known to the court, that man is not judged in court even though G-D knows he did that sin. This is a very important chesed. A person can commit 1000 sins in one day and G-D will not judge him unless the person manages to avoid the heavenly court. There are ways, as we’ll see. Generally, it must be known to the heavenly court.
In this court system, G-D created a certain being, the Satan, the chief prosecutor. The job of the prosecutor, this “mekatreg”—he who brings prosecution, is to alert the court. His purpose is what’s called in legal terminology, “arraignment.” He brings the individual up in front of the court to be judged. He arraigns that individual, accused him that he must stand trial. If the Satan does not alert the court, it doesn’t sit in judgment. A man is only judged if the court sits. The court only sits if the Satan alerts them. If the Satan does not mekatreg, then the court does not sit in judgement and the individual goes on his merry way without ever getting judged by the court.
There are exceptions. A person could be judged by G-D alone acting as a Father and not a King, a judgement inherently more merciful and benevolent but, as we’ll come to understand later, that is only when the defendant can avoid a judicial proceeding.
The Satan is the same individual as the yetzer ha’ra—the evil temptation, that psychic force within man tempting him to do evil. He’s also the malach ha’maves—angel of death. These are all the same being. First, he tries to tempt you to do a sin, as the yetzer ha’ra at that point. If you decide to do the sin, he’s the prosecutor alerting the court to judge you. When, or if, the verdict is that you are to be punished, he becomes the executor of the punishment. He’s got all three jobs.
If the Satan is not aware of your sin, you will not be judged in court. It’s as simple as that. Therefore, we now ask ourselves: if this is the case, if we know what actually goes on in heaven—and this isn’t superstition what I’m telling you, not “nice ideas”—what can be done defensively? If you want to take advantage of the reality I’ve described, you’re intelligent. If you want to be foolish, then you won’t take advantage of the reality I’ve described. The truth is this; what I’ve described is really what goes on, and the knowledge of it, hopefully, will allow you to adopt what’s called a “defensive strategy” to beat the court system. How do we beat the court system? We should know how to intervene in the judicial process, how to have control, have access to it so as to determine or influence what will happen to us.
There are eight different strategies that can be employed and are important to know because you can use them to defend yourself. The first one is: don’t sin! If you don’t sin, you don’t get tried. That’s always the best policy. Don’t do any aveiros—transgressions. You won’t be called and your name won’t come up on the court calendar and no one will look at you.
What if you sin? The second strategy is to do teshuva—repentance. If you repent before you get called to the court, you won’t get called to the court. Repentance effectively blocks the sin from arousing kitrug--prosecution which calls you to court. That will effectively negate the entire judicial process.
What happens if you sin and don’t repent? What can you do next? The third strategy is to make sure that the mekatreg, the Satan, doesn’t know about you. If he doesn’t know about you, he is, obviously, not going to call you to court. Therefore, you must employ a defensive maneuver which shields you from his awareness of your sin. This is the third strategy.
What happens if he knows you sinned? Then we begin to employ a fourth strategy, deferring the trial. You sinned, didn’t repent, he knows about you and arraigns you. Make a motion to postpone the trial. Don’t judge me today; judge me two years from now. That’s the fourth strategy.
Any lawyer will tell you to avoid litigation. The best way to avoid litigation is don’t sin, do teshuva, and you’ll avoid litigation. Don’t get put on the court’s calendar. Don’t let the Satan know. If the Satan knows, try to defer to trial.
What happens if you get called to trial and deferment, strategy #4, is not working. You’ve got another recourse; make a motion for dismissal. This is a fifth strategy. There are certain kinds of pleadings that you can offer in which the judge will say: okay, based on your pleading, I will dismiss the case. It’s not a verdict but a dismissal of the case, so the fifth strategy is to make a motion for dismissal.
What happens if you can’t get the case dismissed? There’s a sixth defensive strategy. You must be tried and you better hope that you can be acquitted, that you will have the zchusim--merits awesome enough to walk out of there as one intact person. Even though you are, physically, here, you are judged up there. So, do mitzvos because, if you have mitzvos, you can be acquitted. Pile up as much merit as possible!
What happens if you don’t have enough merit and they try you and they issue a verdict, a judgement? What is there left for you to do? You still have two more strategies. You can suspend the execution of the judgement. Say: I know you’re gonna do such-and-such to me but don’t do it now! Do it some other time! Give me a year from now!
If that doesn’t work, there is an eighth, and last, strategy to employ before you get clobbered. Make a motion for leniency to mitigate the judgement. “Don’t give me everything now. Give me a little now and, two months from now, give me a little more.” Then it’s much easier to bear. If a punishment is distributed over time, it’s easier. Make a motion for clemency to give you that judgement over a long stretch.
Those are the eight strategies.
Mida K’neged Mida—Measure-For-Measure
You might say: this sounds great! If we can interface with the judicial proceeding itself, that’s incredible! That’s a great chesed that G-D gives us. I will show you that you can interface at every stage of the proceedings. You have a device, an instrument, as the defendant, to access the proceedings at each stage if you want to but it’s based on a principle. What is it called? It’s a real operative principle called “mida kneged mida”—measure-for-measure. What does it mean?
It differs from din in that, with din, if you do “A,” you get “B;” that’s din—judgment. With mida kneged mida, you do “A” and you get “A” in reverse! It’s justice, but a specific and peculiar form of justice; that’s what chazal say. “In an exact manner that an individual behaves, that is the way he will be treated.” By the way, that corresponds to Newton’s third law of motion which says that, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
How do you employ mida kneged mida to interface with the stages of the judicial proceedings? Let’s take the last strategy first.
The last strategy to mitigate the decision, asking the head of the court to soften the execution of the judgement, is done, how?--using mida kneged mida. If somebody owes you money and you approach them saying, “Look, you owe me $1,000.”
The guy says, “I have no money; I just lost my job last week. Do me a favor, okay? I can’t pay you back now but give me some time.”
You respond, “Okay. You owe me $1,000 so pay me $300 now and pay me the rest later.”
You are being what’s called “merachem”—acting compassionately toward someone who owed you something. Therefore, G-D will say: since you didn’t claim justice, claim what was due to you and, by allowing this person to pay you partially with the rest to be paid later, I’ll do the same for you. If you have to endure punishment—which is something you owe—G-D will distribute it over time as an act of rachmanus—compassion, measure-for-measure. You give the guy six months; G-D gives you six months.
What’s important to understand is that it’s not merit of compassion that earns you the mitigation of the judgment. It is not that; It’s the peculiarity of the concept of mida kneged mida. You can be guilty of something but the merit of being compassionate will never override or suspend that decision. It’s not the merit of the compassion; it’s the mida kneged mida built into the system. Since you are compassionate, G-D will be compassionate. The definition of “rachmanus” is “suspension of justice.” You suspend justice by mitigating it or suspending it for a certain amount of time. But remember, it is not the merit of the compassion but the principle of mida kneged mida that an individual has to mitigate the stringency of justice. That is what allows someone to make his plea for suspension or mitigation. This explains strategies #7 and #8.
What happens if you‘re tried? Then you have to have mitzvos to your credit. So, that strategy is about fulfilling commandments. That’s #6.
What if you’re at #5, having merit to mitigate the judgment? The only way to do it is by having merit which is the fulfilling of mitzvos. You can be acquitted if you’ve fulfilled commandments.
Let’s go further. What’s even better than mitigating the judgement, suspending the decision, or winning the verdict? It is to make a motion for dismissal. How is that done? We must come back to the principle of mida kneged mida. That principle is the way G-D allows us to access the system. It’s not the merit but the principle itself. How do we make the motion for dismissal?
If someone does a wrong to you, overlook it! Pardon it! It will be mida kneged mida. You wronged G-D but, since you overlooked the wrong done to you which you can justifiably claim as a wrong perpetrated against you, G-D will overlook what you did to Him. The fact that you had a claim and decided to forego collecting on it, decided to be a mechila—one who pardons, forgives, you can intervene in the fifth area, the fifth stage of the judicial proceeding and make a motion for dismissal. Again, it’s not the merit; it’s the fact that, using mida kneged mida, you can remove a case pending against you.
The next stage is about deference. How can you defer the trial? This is done through the mitzvah of shofar. By blowing the shofar on Rosh Ha’Shana, you employ the secret of the shofar which is that it enables Jews to defer trial. I’m not going into that now; that’s for a lecture about Rosh Ha’Shana, but I’m telling you that the profound secret of shofar is that it defers the trial of Jews on Rosh Ha’Shana to a later time or different system.
Let’s say you sin and didn’t do teshuva. I’m not going to address that because, obviously, the strategy for that is not to sin or be sure to repent. But let’s assume you did sin and didn’t repent. The best way to avoid this whole business is to disallow the Satan from arraigning you, from prosecuting you, not bringing up your name on the court calendar. How is this done?
The Most Valuable Strategy
This is the most valuable strategy. If you can find out the secret of kitrug, that which allows the Satan to prosecute, you’ve got the most valuable device. Since it’s the heavenly court that does everything in the entire world, this is obviously the greatest knowledge you can have. The strategy to make sure he will never prosecute against you is: DON’T SPEAK LOSHON HA’RA!
You all look at me and say: don’t speak loshon ha’ra? That’s incredible! What does this have to do with the court system in heaven? Aha!
Let’s take a look at what loshon ha’ra really is. Among the most profound ideas is that, if you don’t speak loshon ha’ra, it is impossible for the prosecutor to prosecute you. The Satan has no access to you. If you speak loshon ha’ra, he can haul you into court. What is the logic to this?
Ask yourself: what is loshon ha’ra? It is a communication that damages. What is prosecution? It is when the Satan is in court bad-mouthing you, telling how you did such-and-such a sin, but his is permitted. He is speaking allowable loshon ha’ra but it’s still loshon ha’ra because the definition of loshon ha’ra is any communication that damages. That’s mida kneged mida. If you refrain from loshon ha’ra, the Satan cannot speak loshon ha’ra against you in court. If you do speak loshon ha’ra, it gives the Satan access to your entire portfolio of sins.
What we begin to perceive is an incredible idea; the Satan has no access to the beis din—the heavenly tribunal except through your loshon ha’ra. If you never indulge in it, he has no access. If you do, he as access to all your sins. Why? Loshon ha’ra is exactly what he says against you and you can stop him by the principle of mida kneged mida. Just like the former examples, it’s not the merit of not speaking loshon ha’ra that stops him from prosecuting you; it’s the principle of mida kneged mida. You don’t speak it; he can’t speak it about you. The Satan has to wait for your loshon ha’ra in order to arraign you!
This is an incredible chesed that G-D does.
The first chesed is that, even though man sins, I will not judge him, only a court. The court can judge him but only through a prosecutorial action. He cannot be judged without a kitrug.
This incredible chesed is that you are the individual who causes your own kitrug. Just as only you can cause your punishment because you sinned, only you can actually haul yourself into trial. Man has the access. Man has the control, not only of his punishment but of his own trial. G-D allows man to be responsible not only for his own punishment but for the very fact that he is tried in the heavenly court at all. You refrain, you are never called to court. You do, and you will be arraigned, indicted, and the court will have access to your entire record.
You can have one million sins on your record but, as long as there’s no kitrug, you’re protected from prosecution. As soon as you open up your mouth with loshon ha’ra, it’s all over.