This Shabbos and Sunday are Rosh Chodesh Elul! One month until Rosh Hashanah!
This is an appropriate moment to discuss loshon hara (evil speech). Teshuva (repentance, which we must try to accomplish before Rosh Hashana) is impossible without ahavas chinom (love of our fellow Jew), and ahavas chinom is impossible until we release ourselves from the insidious darkness of loshon hara.
Recently, our son-in-law, Rabbi Osher Jungreis, forwarded to me an extraordinary video, featuring a lecture by Rabbi Rafael Rubin, who spoke on Tisha B’Av in Netanya. It jarred me into realizing that I had not understood loshon hara at all. How can you try to conquer your desire to speak loshon hara if you have no idea what is involved?
I had been sure that I could simply discipline myself and get better at eliminating loshon hara from my conversation, but this lecture brought home to me with a thunderous roar my own appalling denial of the roots of the problem. I had been mildly aware of my own thoughts, but I had not allowed myself to acknowledge their power over me.
Here are the words that had the most impact on me:
Once a Jew came to his rabbi and said, “Rabbi, I am always failing with loshon hara. What should I do?”
The rabbi said, “Do you speak loshon hara also about your father?”
“Is your father perfect?”
“So it’s probably very hard for you to keep your mouth shut, because he’s not perfect.”
“Rabbi, what are you talking about? If anyone would dare say something bad about my father, I would kill him!”
The Rabbi said, “Why is that?”
“Because I love him.”
The rabbi said, “You see, if you love Am Yisroel, you will never be able to speak loshon hara!”
This shocked me. I had assumed that I simply needed to discipline myself and watch my speech. But I know that I also fell short of my goal on many occasions, rationalizing loshon hara and then later regretting it. Or perhaps on other occasions I was not even aware of committing this terrible sin. I suddenly realized, when I heard Rabbi Rubin’s powerful presentation, that it wasn’t just lack of discipline; it was a problem with my attitude!
Let’s think about his words: “If you love Am Yisroel you will never be able to speak loshon hara.” When I examined my thoughts, I realized that I was deficient in ahavas Yisroel. When I was honest with myself, I realized that I actually wanted to speak loshon hara! That was why I did it!
Isn’t that frightening!
I realized that I wanted to damage these people I was talking about! I wanted other people to know how deficient they are! I felt I was superior to them and that their alleged faults should be publicized. I wanted to tarnish their reputation in other peoples’ eyes! That’s why I was speaking loshon hara! It was no accident; it was intentional! This was shocking! I had been telling myself, “You are basically a tzaddik who just needs to refine your language.”
This is unadulterated sinas chinom! This is the reason the Batei Mikdosh (the Holy Temples) were destroyed! This is the reason the Bais Hamikdosh has not been rebuilt! And it’s right here, in me, that this terrible sin is being perpetrated! I can be sitting and weeping on Tisha B’Av, and at the same time causing the churban (the destruction of the Temple) all over again!
Rabbi Rubin referred to the Ari Hakodesh, “who could see the sins of each Jew …,” and he said, “If I would see all of other people’s sins, I would always think bad about others … but [in fact] the Ari writes, ‘Every morning, every Jew, before he starts praying to Hashem, must say these words: ‘I am taking upon myself the mitzvah asai of ‘You shall love your fellow Jew as you love yourself and ... I am taking upon myself to love each Jew as my own soul and flesh.’ When we love one another,” Rabbi Rubin continued, “we can prevent many problems.”
Maybe all problems!
It says in this week’s Torah Portion, “You shall not harden your heart or close your hand against your … brother.” (Deuteronomy 15:7)
Maybe we’re not making the correct mental calculation. Maybe we’re not looking at ourselves straight. Maybe we’re not acknowledging what we already know in our own heart. Maybe we’re not solving the catastrophe of sinas chinom because we don’t want to solve it!
“Beware lest there be a lawless thought in your heart.” (Deuteronomy 15:9)
Now is the time, my friends, for us to be ruthlessly honest about what is in our hearts. Not just because it is Chodesh Elul, but particularly because the days of Moshiach ben Dovid are upon us and the Final Redemption is coming very soon with G-d’s help.
The Novi says, “I am Hashem. In its time I will hasten it.” (Isaiah 60:22)
“The day is coming, burning like an oven ….” (Malachi 3:19) It is coming, whether or not we are prepared. If we are prepared, it will be a perfect world for us. “A sun of righteousness will shine for you who fear My Name, with healing in its rays….” (ibid)
In that world, there will be perfect speech. All words will be words of Torah. As our Rabbis write, “Those who love the speech that befits [Shabbos] have chosen greatness.” (Shabbos Mussaf) We will speak then like the angels, who “open their mouth in holiness and purity, in song and hymn … and bless, praise, glorify, revere, sanctify and declare the kingship of the Name of G-d, the great, mighty and awesome King, holy is He.” (Morning Prayer)
May we soon merit to be among those healed by the “sun of righteousness” and to hear only the speech of the righteous, perfect words which bring holiness into the world!