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Parshas Matos-Masei (5775)

The Gift of Speech

The Talmud in Yoma 9b teaches that the reason why the Second Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans and we were exiled from the Land of Israel in the year 70 CE (and why we are still in exile for almost two thousand years and about to enter into yet another Tishah B’Av fast day – this year it begins out on Saturday evening July 26th – upon which we mourn the Holy Temple’s destruction) is because of sinas chinam, gratuitous hatred, between one Jew and another.

The Chafetz Chaim, the great pre-war Torah sage, explains that the real cause of all the tragedies and Heavenly retribution that the Jews suffered during that period was the lashon hara, malicious slander and gossip, which they spoke against each other as a result of their baseless hatred.

This means that the only way that the Messiah will come and rebuild the Third Temple in Jerusalem – which will usher in a new era of peace and harmony for the world – will be when we learn to stop speaking wanton lashon hara and start loving each other as we should.

The problem is that it is very difficult to stop speaking lashon hara. It takes tremendous effort and even courage not to pass along some really juicy gossip about someone else (especially someone whom you can’t stand!).

Maybe this Talmudic teaching and explanation from the Chafetz Chaim, who literally wrote the book on the Torah laws of speech, will help give us the push we need to gather the strength to refrain from speaking lashon hara when the situation arises:

The Talmud in Chullin 89a expounds on a verse in the Prophets and teaches us that man’s profession in this world should be “to make himself mute.” The Chafetz Chaim (in his Sefer Shemiras HaLashon, Shaar HaTevunah chapter 1) writes that this strange Talmudic passage is intended to inspire us not to speak lashon hara. He explains it as follows:

Imagine if, G-d forbid, you were stricken with a rare disease and you lost your ability to speak. What a terrible tragedy to lose your power of speech! All the best doctors in the city in which you live try to heal you with various treatments and medicines but nothing works and you remain mute and unable to speak. One day, a visiting doctor who specializes in this type of rare disease, comes to the city and offers to try a revolutionary treatment that will hopefully restore your power of speech. He also says that he won’t charge you a penny for this difficult operation. The operation takes many hours but is ultimately successful, and you are once again able to speak. Imagine the feelings of gratitude and closeness that you would feel towards the doctor who performed the long and complex operation to heal you from your dreaded disease. You would do anything for him, no matter what it is or how hard it might be for you. And you certainly wouldn’t use that power of speech to speak against the doctor or his family.

So, too, explains the Chafetz Chaim, is it the same with each and every one of us. G-d, the best doctor of all, performs a major “operation” when we wake up in the morning and restores our power of speech free of charge, so that we can use it for good things - to encourage another person, to share words of Torah, etc. Yet we abuse the gift of speech that G-d gave us and we speak lashon hara and other inappropriate speech hundreds of times a day, and yet G-d still restores our ability to speak each day. Is this the way to pay Him back for the great gift that He gave us – by using that very same gift to speak lashon hara against His children?

This is the intent of the Talmudic statement that we quoted earlier. Each and every one of us should “make himself mute”, i.e. we should realize that we really don’t deserve this gift of speech after abusing it so often, and by right should really be mute. Yet G-d in His infinite kindness, keeps on restoring our power of speech each day, so the least we can do is to not use that same gift against His children.

May G-d grant us the courage and ability to stop speaking lashon hara, so that we merit to see the coming of the Messiah, speedily and in our day.

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