Letters Aug. 2022

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

Lashon Hara: Violated when Alone?

Reader: My question pertains to Lashon Hara. I understand that if you are speaking against another person to someone else, that is Lashon Hara. My question is, what if someone has hurt you so deeply and caused such grief because of lies and theft and you speak out when you are alone [to vent]? I know G-d hears all, but is it also considered Lashon Hara when expressing your pain without an audience?

Rabbi: You committed no sin if you spoke privately. As Rabbi Israel Chait stated, Lashon Hara is where—by sharing a corrupt picture of another person or distorting truths—one person distorts another person's perception of reality, be it about of people or about facts. There must be an audience in order to commit this sin. 

Nonetheless, you intelligently ask if degrading speech per se expressed when alone is harmful. Although not Lashon Hara, verbalization even while alone is damaging as you do not contain your aggressive expression. Speaking in private, you allow yourself to get one step closer to the actual sin. 

It is also advantageous practically that one contains their speech, even when in private: 

“Do not say something that cannot be heard, for in the end it will be heard” (Ethics 2:4).

Rabbeinu Yona comments: 

“As a person must guard and be careful from the possibility. Hence if you have a secret, do not tell it even to someone whose soul is bound to your soul [confidant]. And don't say, "[It is] impossible that this thing be heard, as there is no stranger among us to transport these words." 'And in the end, everything is heard.' Even between you and yourself, do not make it heard to your ears, as the rabbis, may their memory blessed, metaphorically said (Berakhot 8b), "Do not talk among the walls, for the walls have ears." And about this, King Solomon—peace be upon him—said, “For a bird of the air may carry the utterance, and a winged creature may report the word” (Koheles 10:20).

The idea that “birds will carry your words” and that, “walls have ears” must be understood; both make no sense literally. As birds don’t speak, and walls don’t hear or speak, how will one’s evil speech reach others, bringing harm on oneself? There’s only one possibility…

These metaphors refer to man’s lack of restraint. Man has such a yearning to degrade others, such a burning lack of control, this psychological disposition is viewed as if “birds and walls will hear and carry his words.” These beautifully crafted metaphors convey this self-destructive part of human nature, where ego and the desire to degrade others outweighs the ultimate destruction of one’s spoken words. King Solomon scripted this metaphor to warn man against harming himself. For although speaking privately cannot hurt us, venting our ego and aggressive speech privately, incites our emotions, making us weaker to control ourselves when others are in our presence and can share our damning speech that will come back to bite us.  

But we must distinguish between egoistical degrading speech, and your case of simply crying out due to oppression. You case is akin to the Jews who groaned due to the oppressive Egyptian bondage: “The Israelites were groaning under the bondage and cried out” (Exod. 2:123).  Those Jews did nothing wrong. Their cry was not premeditated, but a natural, uncontrollable response to pain. The same can be said of your cries. 

Abraham didn’t Need Torah, Why do We?

Reader: Hi Rabbi. I heard that Abraham did not have the Torah, according to Rambam. He relied on reason. So why do Jews today need the Torah when reason “can do it” like it did for Abraham?

Rabbi: Most people today are not on Abraham’s level; Torah is required. Furthermore, originally, God’s plan was that man use his well-equipped mind to recognize God, arrive at truths and act morally. But man regressed, idolatry became rampant, societies became immoral, and a Torah system was now required for mankind. Therefore, due to both cultural and intellectual compromises, Torah is required.

Who Loses His Soul?

Reader: What is the penalty in Judaism legally and spiritually for someone who insults a Rabbi or religious scholar personally over a non religious issue and over a religious issue? What if he mocks or insults, in front of a Rabbi, Scholar, aspects of Judaism that are law….opinions that are not legal [not accepted halacha]. What does G-d say to blasphemers and heretics who do this around secular but self identifying Jews? What about Jews who do not convert but speak up for Jesus as G-d, a prophet, a messiah in front of religious Jews including Rabbis and everyday religious Jews?

Rabbi: I am not in a position to comment about legal penalties, but I will cite sources addressing the damage to the soul. All these below lose their afterlife:

Rav and Rabbi Ḥanina both say: This (an apikores) is one who treats a Torah scholar with contempt. Rabbi Yochanan and Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi say: This is one who treats another with contempt before a Torah scholar. (Sanhedrin 99b)

And, the following are they that have no share in the World to Come but suffer excision and loss of identity, and are damned for ever and ever for their exceeding wickedness and sinfulness: atheists, infidels, traducers of the Torah, dissenters of resurrection and the coming of a redeemer, apostates, enticers of many to sin, seceders from the congregation, a public perpetrator of sins emulating Jehoiakim, informers, leaders who cast fear upon the congregation not for the sake of God, shedders of blood by defaming people in public, evil-tongued people, he who abolishes circumcision. (Hil. Teshuva 3:6)

There are five categories of atheists (Min): 

(1) he who says that there is no God and no Omnipotence; 

(2) he who says that there is an Omnipotence but that there are two or more such; 

(3) he who says that there is One Lord; but that He is corporeal and has a form; 

(4) Likewise one who says that He alone is not the First Cause and Creator of all; 

(5) likewise he who worships a star, or planet, or any other as a mediator between him and the Lord of the universe; every one of these five is an atheist. (Hil. Teshuva 3:7)

There are three categories of infidels (Apikores): 

(1) he who says that prophecy is altogether an invention, and that no knowledge reaches the heart of the sons of man from the Creator; 

(2) he who denies the prophecy of Moses our Master; 

(3) and he who says that the Creator knows not the affairs of the sons of man; every one of these three is an infidel. 

There are three categories of Torah traducers (Kofer): 

(1) he who says that the Torah is not God given, even if he says that a single Verse or one word thereof was spoken by Moses on his own authority is, indeed, a traducer of the Torah; 

(2) he who denies its Oral explanation, that is the Oral Torah, or its teachers as Tzaduk and Bysos did; 

(3) he who says that the Creator switched one mitzvah for another and that the Torah had been nullified long ago, though it really was God given; every one of these three is a traducer of the Torah. (Hil. Teshuva 3:8)

There are two categories of apostates (Mumar) in Israel: 

(1) an apostate against one commandment; 

(2) an apostate against the whole Torah. The apostate against one commandment is; one who emboldens himself to transgress a given commandment consciously so that it becomes his habit of doing it publicly, even it be of the minor commandments, for instance, he persistently wears garment mixed of wool and flax, or rounds the corners of his head, as a consequence whereof it appears that such commandment no longer exists in his world, such one is, indeed, an apostate in this matter, if he does such spitefully. An apostate against the whole Torah is, a convert to the religion of the idolaters, for instance, at a time when they issue arbitrary edicts and he cleaves to them, saying: "Of what profit is there for me to cleave to Israel who are down-trodden and persecuted; it is rather best for me to cleave to these in whose hand lies the power", he, assuredly, is apostate against the whole Torah. (Hil. Teshuva 3:9)