This topic of Lashon Hara is particularly capturing my heart and attention right now. I want to be better prepared for the High Holidays this year. I want my life to exhibit fruit, to be a good tree bearing good fruit and thus showing that Yeshua is real to me. Those who don’t want to change likely do not know the Master. Those content to remain the same may be fooling themselves if they imagine themselves to have a relationship with HaShem.
When I read about the Jewish ethical traditions surrounding Lashon Hara, I am embarrassed. I have for most of my life accepted that criticizing others is generally justified. I am a rather critical person. Mind you, being critical is not all bad. It is the sharing of critical comments with others that does harm. It is good to see the weaknesses and faults in others. It is especially good to see faulty reasoning and recognize phony ideas. And there are times when we must share our observations with others.
But guarding against Lashon Hara is a matter of valuing human beings as images of God and loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.
The command of Leviticus 19:18 is the other half of the Shema. The Shema’s call to love God is complemented by the command to love our neighbor. Yeshua put the two together and a recent writer has taken to calling them “the Jesus creed.” It’s not a bad idea, actually, to get people reciting the two greatest commandments frequently, as Jewish tradition already has us saying Shema twice daily. Often repeating ideas puts them into our habitual practice. I know that reciting the Shema frequently helps me remember to enthrone God as king in my actions and thoughts. Repeating the command to love my neighbor frequently could do the same.
While there are legitimate reasons to criticize others, we rarely (I speak for myself) worry about whether our reasons are legitimate. We rarely weight the cost. Is it truly necessary to say this critical thing? If so, what is the least harmful way we can say it? What about our tone? What details must we include?
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, in a book I highly recommend to all (A Code of Jewish Ethics), says this about the relationship between loving our neighbor and avoiding Lashon Hara:
Those who speak negatively about others also violate the Torah commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). Since people do not want damaging information about themselves shared with others, gossips cannot claim to have even tried to fulfill this fundamental law.
Gossips also violate the Torah’s Golden Rule by revealing and discussing people’s greatest areas of vulnerability. If we entered a room and heard people talking about us, what aspects of our lives would we least like to hear them discussing? It would probably be our character flaws and the intimate details of our social life. Yet, most of us, when gossiping, focus precisely on these two areas.
I remember an early lesson on the meaning of loving my neighbor. A friend from Bible college explained it this way. If you were traveling and you had no food, water, a place to sleep, or a toothbrush, you would not rest for a moment until you had secured them. In the same way, loving your neighbor as yourself means you would not allow a neighbor to do without a meal and a toothbrush. For some reason, the toothbrush part especially stuck with me.
In the same way, if I had done something embarrassing or wrong, I would hope it would not be repeated in dozens of conversations. If it was being repeated in such a manner, I would angrily confront the people talking and ask them to stop. If I love myself in this way, how can I not love my neighbor in the same way?
Our neighbor is an image of God. Do we really want to hurt them? Would we cut down God? Would we hurt ourselves?
This Lashon Hara is a serious issue. I plan to combat it by adding to my recitation of the Shema. I will not only say, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might . . .” From now on, at the end, I will add, “And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
May I suggest to all of you, go and do likewise.