Lashon Hara: A Potential Source of Jewish Pride

What does a medieval dispute about Lashon Hara have to do with Jewish Pride?  The background:  Miriam was afflicted with Tzara’as because of the criticism of her brother Moshe that she had voiced to Aharon (see Bamidbar 12).  Here the Torah says:  Remember what the Lord your God did to Miriam on the way, when you were leaving Egypt.  Rashi explains this verse in a way that inadvertently incites an offensive by Ramban (Nachmanidies).  Doesn’t the verse sound like a commandment?  We have many commandments to remember various historical or theological concepts, like what God did for us when we left Egypt or what Amalek did to us afterwards.  Rashi, surprisingly, denies that there is any commandment in this verse.  It is merely giving advice of how to avoid getting afflicted by Tzara’as.  The verse says, in effect, that if you happen to want to avoid getting Tzara’as, then you should not speak Lashon Hara.  According to this interpretation, this verse contains no actual prohibition of speaking Lashon Hara – if you personally do not mind suffering from a Tzara’as affliction now and then, there would apparently be no Torah mandate to refrain from the forbidden speech.  The Ramban strongly disagrees and explains that this verse certainly does prohibit one from speaking Lashon Hara even if he happens not to mind coming down with a case of Tzara’as; it just does it in an unusual way.  Instead of writing: Thou shalt not speak Lashon Hara, the Torah reminds us of terrifying experience that vividly illustrates the severity and harsh consequences of doing so.  His main argument to support his position is the following rhetorical question that brought us into this dispute in the first place:  Is it possible that Lashon Hara, which is so severe that the sages equate it to bloodshed, would be omitted from the Torah’s list of prohibitions?
We are, unfortunately, largely desensitized to this interpersonal law.   An obvious result is that we are likely to be overly carefree when we speak.  A less obvious result, however, is that the Jewish pride that emerges from our attitude toward the Torah can be unnecessarily incomplete and deflated.  If we are honest with ourselves, we may not understand or we may not relate to everything in the Torah equally.  There is one great, great category of Torah laws that should be a source of pride and inspiration to everyone.  The Torah sets such a high standard in our relationships with others!  In particular, why doesn’t the Torah’s condemnation of Lashon Hara, especially as reflected by the sages who compare its severity to the severity of bloodshed, arouse in us a constant feeling of “Wow!”?   This may be a consequence of our relating to this law with a general lack of seriousness.  How can the law of Lashon Hara be a source of pride if we seldom recall its very existence?  The shot-in-the-arm of Jewish pride that this ethically far-ahead-of-its-time commandment can provide is a signifigant collateral effect of the Torah’s charge (in the Ramban’s eyes) that we must remember what happened to Miriam.  We must remember to watch what we say to save us from the interpersonal pitfalls that can result; but an awareness of this commandment can, at the same time, endow us with an enhanced and robust Jewish pride.


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