It is Elul and I do hope that, assuming you are observant, you are taking a spiritual inventory. Rosh Hashanah is nearly here and then Yom Kippur. I, for one, find the Bible’s teachings on speech most challenging. Judaism has expanded upon and made crystal clear the meaning of righteous speech and unrighteous speech. We should all be challenged by the topic of Lashon Hara (evil speech).
In the last post about Lashon Hara, I gave a simple definition and few stories to examine the topic. Here is a basic definition:
Lashon Hara is about true statements that in any way damage another’s reputation or cause embarrassment. Lashon Hara could also cause financial damage or simply demean the one we are talking about.
Recently I attended a lecture by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin at the local Jewish Community Center. His books are very popular the luncheon, though it had room for about 250 people, was overflowing (on a weekday!). His topic was Jewish ethics and this is also the topic of his latest book, A Code of Jewish Ethics: Volume 1.
During the lecture, Rabbi Telushkin told a story about the Chofetz Chaim (1838-1933). The Chofetz Chaim was famous for his books on topics of ethics and especially Lashon Hara. He was in the Jewish world a celebrity, but in the time before mass media and before public figures had their pictures posted all over the place. The Chofetz Chaim was known, but few people knew what he looked like.
So, one day the Chofetz Chaim was traveling by train to give a lecture somewhere in Poland. Soon another Orthodox man sitting near him began to speak to him. He was very excited about going to hear a lecture by none other than . . . the Chofetz Chaim!
The man went on and on talking about how great a man the Chofetz Chaim was, at one point even calling him a holy saint.
The Chofetz Chaim did not know what to say. He said something like, “Have you ever met the Chofetz Chaim? I have. I don’t know that I would say he is such a great saint.”
Upon hearing his idol demeaned, the man on the train grew angry and struck the Chofetz Chaim in the face.
The Chofetz Chaim learned from this a lesson: do not commit Lashon Hara, even against yourself!