in loving memory of Mr. Harry Teller z"l
Shlomo HaMelech writes in Mishle (18:21), "Life and death are dependent upon one's speech." The Medrash (Vayikra Rabba 33:1) relates the following story. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said to Tuvi his servant, "Go to the market and buy me a delicacy." Tuvi went to the market and bought tongue. The Rav then sent Tuvi to buy plain food. He came back with tongue. "What is going on here?" asked Rabban Shimon. "I asked you to buy a delicacy and you bought tongue. I asked you to buy plain food and you bought tongue." Tuvi replied, "There are good and bad tongues. When a tongue is good, there is nothing better than it. And when a tongue is bad, there is nothing worse than it." Rabbeinu Bechaye explains that a good tongue is one that speaks Divrei Torah and encourages others to learn and do mitzvos. A bad tongue is one that speaks loshon hora and rechilus (talebearing). The Medrash continues, telling us about a festive meal that Rebbe Yehuda HaNassi made for his students. He served both soft and hard tongues. The students selected the soft tongues and discarded the hard ones. Rebbe said to them, "Just as you prefer the soft tongues, so too others prefer to hear you speak softly and not harshly."
Children . . .
We can all think of examples of beautiful speech. "I love you Imma." "Thank you so much Abba for helping me with my learning." "That is a beautiful dress you are wearing Chani." These words of appreciation make a person's heart sing. Unfortunately, harsh words of criticism or discouragement can hurt a person very badly. Kinderlach, when Imma comes back to the Shabbos table, let us all tell her how delicious the meal is. What a big mitzvah!
In our forefathers' times, someone who spoke loshon hora contracted a terrible skin disease called tzoras. This was a spiritual disease, therefore the remedy was a spiritual one. Among other things, the metzorah (one afflicted with tzoras) had to undergo a lonely period of isolation outside of the community for one or two weeks. The Gemora (Erechin 16b) explains the reason for this isolation. This metzorah, by speaking loshon hora, caused separation between man and wife, and between friends. Therefore, his punishment was to be separated from people. One reason was to prevent him from further hurting anyone with words. A second reason is illustrated by a story in the sefer, "613 Stories on the 613 Mitzvos," by M. Frankel. In the year 1848, there was an epidemic of cholera in Vilna. Many people were stricken and died. The Jews of the area began to introspect to determine what sins of theirs were causing the terrible plague. One man felt that he had the answer, and so he came to the home of Rav Yisrael Salanter. Rav Yisrael sat and patiently listened to this man's description of the bad deeds of his fellow Jews. The Rav's wise reply to the man was as follows. "Since you consider yourself such an expert in finding faults, you should leave the community and go into isolation. Then you will have time to think and contemplate your own faults."
Children . . .
Isolation is a terrible punishment. Can you imagine not having even one person around to speak to? No smiles, no hello or goodbye. No one to play with or to tell secrets to. As the Sefer HaChinuch says, (Mitzvah 169) the metzorah must be alone in order to contemplate his mistakes. We have neither tzoras nor isolation, but we should still take the time to consider the seriousness of loshon hora and the damage that it causes.
Rebbe Akiva's Students
The Gemora (Yevamos 62b) relates the story of a terrible tragedy. Rebbe Akiva had 12,000 pairs of students from the city of Givas to Antripas who all died within a short period because they did not give the proper respect to one another. The world was void of Torah until Rebbe Akiva came to the south of Israel and taught five new students; Rebbe Meir, Rebbe Yehuda, Rebbe Yosi, Rebbe Shimon, and Rebbe Elazar ben Shamua. Those new students disseminated the Torah. The others all perished between Pesach and Shavuous from a painful disease called "ascora". Let us think for a minute. Twenty four thousand Yeshiva students died! That is a lot of students! That may be more students than are learning in all of the world's Yeshivas right now! Was their sin so terrible? The Maharal explains that the time between Pesach and Shavuous is a time to prepare ourselves to receive the Torah. This preparation involves perfecting our character traits. One of the crucial aspects that we must work on is honoring Torah and those who learn it. It is so important that the Maharal calls honoring ones fellow man the essence of life. Those who did not value the essence of life were not permitted to continue living. They died from "ascora", a disease of the throat. Speech comes from the throat, and "Life and death are dependent upon one's speech" (as we said in the beginning).
Children . . .
It comes back to the same thing. We should use the wonderful gift of speech that Hashem gave us to honor each other and to learn His Torah. Then we will merit living long lives, filled with blessing.
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