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Rabbi Yosef Levinson
In recent weeks, the violence in Eretz Yisrael has escalated to the point that the Government of Israel has had no choice but to declare war on the Palestinian terrorists. Over twenty thousand soldiers have been mobilized with the aim to uproot the terrorist infrastructure which has been responsible for murdering and maiming hundreds of our brethren and placing the rest of Eretz Yisrael in the grip of fear.
In this week's Parsha, we are exhorted "love your neighbour as yourself." The Yerushalmi (Nedarim 9:4) explains that the Jewish people are likened to one body, which comprises many limbs and organs. If each Jew is considered a limb, perhaps it can be said that the Jews of Eretz Yisrael make up the Jewish heart. When someone is hurt, the pain is not limited to the injured limb. Depending on the organ and the severity of injury, the pain could spread through the entire body. A Jew surely feels the suffering and anguish of his fellow Jew and if Eretz Yisrael indeed corresponds to the heart then the entire Jewish Nation should be racked with pain. We must join the war against our enemies.
We must realize however that the battlegrounds in this war are not only in Jenin and Nablus. The battle is being waged from Melbourne to Moscow, from London to Lakewood, and throughout the world. No matter where a Jew lives, he can come to the aid of his brethren in Eretz Yisrael.
David Hamelech reminds us: "Eileh varechev va'eileh vasusim, va'anachnu b'sheim Hashem Elokeinu nazkir. Heima karu v'nafalu, va'anachnu kamnu v'nisodad- Some come with chariots and some come with horses, but we call out in the name of Hashem. They stumbled and fell but we arose and were strengthened(Tehillim 20:8,9).One must not place his trust in armed forces alone. Our true security also depends upon those who learn and teach Torah and those who daven to Hashem. In the merit of Torah and tefilla, Hashem will protect us, and our army will be successful in defending us. This is what the Sages teach us concerning the verse: "Hakol kol Yaakov v'hayadayim yedei Eisav" (Bereishis 27:22), "The voice is the voice of Yaakov and the hands are the hands of Eisav." When Yaakov's voice resonates in the synagogues and study halls, in prayer and learning, then Eisav will have no hands to rise up against us. (Pesikta to Eicha Rabba, 2. The Midrash (ibid) relates that R' Asi and R' Ami traveled throughout Eretz Yisrael to inspect its security. When they would enter a city, they would say "show us the guardians of the city." The town's people would then show them the police and armed guards. R' Ami and R' Asi would then respond: "Are these the protectors of the city? These are the destroyers of the city!" If one relies solely on the armed forces and does not turn to Hashem, he is doomed to fail.
The Aznaim l'Torah comments further that Yaakov's voice was a natural part of him. He learned Torah in his father's house, in the yeshivos of Shem and Ever, when he was watching Lavan's sheep and when he returned to Eretz Canaan. By contrast, his "hands of Eisav", were an artificial, temporary 'adornment' of goatskin so that he could resemble Eisav when necessary. If we must resort to armed combat to defend ourselves against our enemies, we must only don 'Eisav's gloves' on our hands. Our hands themselves and our hearts must be faithful to Hashem, and the voice of Yaakov, our heritage must not be weakened.
It is incumbent upon each and every Jewish man, woman and child to enlist in this struggle. We must come armed with our Gemaros and Chumashim, our Siddurim and Tehillim . We must toil in Torah and storm the Heavens with our prayers. ("Ein lanu ela Avinu shebaShamayim", We have no one to rely on but our Father in Heaven).
Nonetheless, Torah and tefilla are not enough for us to win this war. Even the members of the most elite army unit, who have the most advanced and sophisticated weaponry available, would be vulnerable to attack if they ran out of ammunition, or if their weapons were damaged. Even as we daven fervently to Hashem and learn His Torah, we must be vigilant not to engage in any conduct which might prevent Hashem from hearing our prayers.
In this week's parsha, the Torah warns us: "Lo seilech rachil b'amecha" - Do not go around as a slanderer among your people. (Vayikra 19:16). It is prohibited to slander and spread lashon hara, evil gossip about our fellow Jew. Chazal teach that if one speaks lashon hara, his prayers are not accepted before Hashem. By speaking lashon hara, one causes spiritual impurity to descend upon him, which can only be removed by teshuva, returning to Hashem (Zohar, Parshas Metzora). The Chafetz Chaim adds that we can now understand another maamar Chazal (teaching of the Sages), the metzora must publicly proclaim that he is tamei, so that the community may pray on his behalf. The Chafetz Chaim explains that the public must pray for the metzora, for his own prayers are unwelcome before Hashem.
Why are the Heavenly gates locked for one who engages in lashon hara? The Torah describes Hashem's creation of man: "And He blew into his nostrils the soul of life, and man became a living being." (Bereishis 2:7). Targum Onkelos understands this passuk to mean 'man became a talking spirit.' Man is distinguished from animals by his power of speech. Although at first glance, one might think that intellect is the essence of mankind, it is through speech that human intellect is expounded and disseminated.
Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin zt'l writes: "Through speech, and its form in writing, man's practical and theoretical innovations in all realms of knowledge are transmitted to his neighbor, and likewise, each generation passes on the knowledge it inherited from its predecessors, as well as its own additions. In the course of many generations, man has succeeded in working over and refining the new material created by Hashem, achieving an extraordinary level of science and technology. Without speech and writing, the transfer of knowledge would be impossible between generations, or even between contemporaries and man's intellect would stagnate and degenerate" (Aznaim L'Torah, Bereishis).
When one speaks lashon hara or other forms of forbidden speech, one is abusing Hashem's gift to mankind. Instead of using this precious tool to influence others positively, he causes destruction. In effect, by speaking lashon hara, one is undermining his essence and demonstrates that he has no appreciation for what distinguishes him from the animals.
This is true for all of humanity, for Hashem has bestowed all of mankind with the power of speech. As Hashem's Holy nation, we were elevated and granted the opportunity to learn the D'var Hashem and pray before Him. This was the purpose of creation, and through learning and tefilla, we sustain the universe, as Shimon Hatzaddik taught: "On three things the world stands, on Torah, Avoda (Divine service, i.e., prayer) and acts of kindness" (Avos 1:2).
One who was given an instrument to serve the King, would not defile this tool by using it for a lowly purpose. And surely he would not use this tool for activities that the King finds abhorrent. Rather, he would treat it with the utmost care and respect. This instrument actually distinguishes him as a servant of the King and is a badge of honour. One who speaks lashon hara and uses his tongue against Hashem's wishes, is belittling the Divine gift of speech. Surely, he is most unwelcome to stand before Him in prayer.
If a person was to bar our entry into the Beis Hamedrash and Beis Hakenesses, we would consider this person a rasha. Yet if we engage in lashon hara, that is exactly what we are doing! Let us resolve to refrain from lashon hara. In this way we will sanctify our mouths as holy vessels. Then, let us strengthen our learning and tefilla. The pure words will then soar to Shamayim and we will triumph over our enemies.
Daf Hashavua Kollel Beth HaTalmud Copyright (c) 2002 by Rabbi Yosef Levinson
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