Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
This weeks Torah portions (Tazria/Metzora) elaborate on the bodily diseases suffered by people who speak evil about others, people who gossip. We must understand the corruption of evil speech as compared to all our other faults: Why does God punish us—miraculously—with skin diseases? Why are we not miraculously punished for stealing or other sins?
People view speech as a light matter, and not as severe as physical injury or robbery. This dismissal makes it so much easier to commit the crime of gossip and libel, and so much easier to excuse ourselves from any crime. God must wake us up to see the true damage. Maimonides teaches (Hil. Dayos 7:3) that evil speech or gossip is worse than the three cardinal sins of murder, idolatry, and adultery. The reasoning behind this severity is that evil speech contains the corruptions of all three cardinal sins. When we speak evil about another, it is truly character assassination on par with murder. Idolatry is a sin where we attempt to change reality, and we do the same when we speak evil about another person: our attempt is to ruin that person, in our own imagination. And the sin of adultery is unbridled expression of our instincts, which we clearly see expressed in evil speech. Bodily diseases like boils is the final stage of God’s warnings against the slanderer. In His mercy, God first diseases one's home as the first warning. If the sinner does not heed this lesson, God sends the leprosy to his clothing. Finally if the sinner persists and does not repent, God sends leprosy to his body. Now, the person cannot avoid his fault.
Evil speech is irreversible, and can ruin a person’s life in a matter of seconds. The sinner must take two birds where one is killed, and the live one is dipped in the blood of the other, and let loose over a field. This embodies the bloody speech set loose in the world, which is irreversible. You cannot catch that bloody chirping bird, it is free out in the world. So too is the bloody chirping speech set loose in the world. One has bloodied his friend, and like murder, it is irreversible. Money can be returned and bodily injuries heal, but a bad reputation is a permanent stain.
Be so careful before opening your mouth. Feelings of ego, aggression and revenge all motivate us to “set the world, right” after somebody has wronged us. The Rabbi's were very aware of this, and formulated a blessing at the end of our Shmoneh Essay: “My God, guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking slander. And to those who curse me, let my soul be silent, and let my soul be like [worthless] dust to everybody.”
Beware of opening your mouth, for slander only changes the world in your mind, not in reality. And for your momentary instinctual satisfaction, consider that your slander can lead your victim to suicide to escape the shame.
God must be your only concern in life, not the pleasurable ego gratification after slandering one who wronged you. There are a proper methods for correcting a wrong, but slander is not one of them. An incentive to stay silent is that God passes over all the sins of a person who was wronged, and does not retaliate (Rosh Hashanna 17a). But a far superior motivation is using your wisdom and dominating your instincts by recognizing that your objective in life is not competition with others, but of continuously discovering and enjoying God's beautiful wisdom, and drawing close to Him by following His ways.