This week we read a double parsha. The main topic is that of “Tzoraas,” mainly a skin condition which G-d sent as an admonishment. The condition occurred on a person’s body, his clothing, or even the walls of his house. There is a cleansing process which the stricken person underwent, after which he was pronounced clean, and he would go back to his regular routine.
This cleansing process is not meant to be only physical, because it needs to be the result of a recognition of one’s shortcomings and a resolution to change in a certain area of life. This area regards one’s speech. The Sages tell us that this condition occurred to people who spoke badly of others.
People in general understand that it is wrong to spread false rumors about others. The Torah, however, takes this one step further. Even true statements which cast dispersions upon others are contained in the Torah prohibition regarding speech.
Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagen (d. 1933), known as the Chofetz Chaim, made publicizing these prohibitions one of his life’s works. He authored several works on the topic, extremely well researched. Besides the technical aspect of what is permitted and what is not, he authored works which explain the many statements made by our sages regarding this topic.
In the work “Shemiras HaLoshon, Shaar HaTevunah” (Guarding the Tongue, Chap. 14) the Chofetz Chaim explains some of the aspects of human nature which bring about the transgression of speaking ill of others. The Chofetz Chaim abbreviates the seven causes using the first letter of each of the seven words. Together the letters spell “Kol Gehinom”, which translated means “all hell”. Let’s Briefly look at each of them.
- Ka’as – anger. If a person allows anger to control him, every time someone crosses him he’ll say anything about him that occurs to him. The Chofetz Chaim quotes a verse. “A man of fury – numerous sins.
- Laitzonus – Scorn. This trait is characterized by treating serious things lightly, and is often something which is common among groups who get together and scorn others. Aside from the prohibition of scorning, it is a waste of precious time.
- Ga’avoah – Haughtiness. When a person feels that he is better than others, there is seemingly nothing wrong with speaking negatively about them. He will also be filled with jealousy and hatred for anyone else who is held in high esteem by others. The potential for speaking ill of others is very great for someone who possesses this trait. There is really no place for haughtiness, because one never knows who is truly closer to fulfilling his potential in life.
- Hefker – Abandonment. Many people will respond to exhortations saying that it is impossible to be sooooo careful about one’s speech. We find ourselves in so many situations where people are speaking ill of others. Nevertheless, G-d expects us to refrain from speaking negatively of others, and He commands us as such in the Torah. Our sages tell us that G-d never puts us in a situation which we cannot succeed in.
- Yai-ush – Despair. If we really want something badly enough, it’s amazing how much we can accomplish. We can be careful about what we say if we choose to, and we really want to. There is no reason to ever despair of attaining a reasonable goal.
- Nirganus – Negativeness. A person who possesses this trait looks at everything as if it was done against him. Such people read negative meanings into people’s words, they imagine that no one likes them, and everything bad that someone else did by accident will be interpreted as if it was on purpose. It is not hard to see how such a person would come to speak negatively of others.
- Omer mutar – One who believes he is allowed to say what he wants because of ignorance. The only cure for this is learning. The more one delves into what G-d wants from us, the more sensitive we can become in regard to G-d’s expectations.
It is fitting to review these seven shortcomings which so strongly impact our attitudes toward the things we say. If we will take these words seriously, we will find that there is great potential in them for personal growth. Although nowadays we will not find the condition on our skin, clothing or houses, there is a great lesson for us to learn, and a great potential for the rewards which result from sensitivity about what we say, which are all still intact.