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"Guard Thy Tongue!"

04/03/2019 05:07:13 PM


Rabbi Reuben Israel, Abraham, CDR, CHC, USN (ret)

Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel once sent his servant, Tavi, to the market to buy "good food."  Tavi, who was known for his wisdom, brought back beef tongue.  Rav Shimon immediately sent him back to buy "bad food."  Again he returned with beef tongue.  Rav Shimon asked him how the same food could be both "good" and "bad."  Tavi replied: "From a tongue can come both good and bad.  When a tongue speaks good by complimenting or praising another person, there can be nothing better.  But when a tongue speaks evil by speaking lashon hara ("gossip") or by making fun of another person, there is nothing worse.  It can break up families, and it can kill."

This week's parashah, Parashat Tazria, talks of the disease of tza'arat, all-too-often mistranslated as "leprosy."  The fact is that tza'arat is not a communicable disease like the mumps or measles.  Our Sages tell us that a person receives this affliction due to speaking lashon hara (e.g. - telling tales/lies about another person).  The literal translation of lashon harah is "evil tongue."  The Tanakh tells us: "Death and life are in the hands of the tongue." (Mishlei 18:21)  On a slight variation of an old adage, the tongue is mightier than the sword.  Why?  Because a sword can only kill the person who is next to you.  The tongue, on the other hand, can speak words on one continent that "hit the heart" of of someone on another continent and "kill" them.  Of all the limbs and organs of the human body the tongue moves with the greatest speed and the least effort.  Using the tongue to spread lashon hara is the most frequently committed sin which in human beings engage.  And it is this sin that caused one to be afflicted with tza'arat.  

In the Story of Creation, we read: "And (HaShem) blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a nefesh chaya ("a living being").  (Bereshit 2:7)  Targum Onkelos translates nefesh chaya as "a speaking spirit."  It is the human soul given to each one of us by Hashem that gives human beings the ability and the power to speak.  But Hashem also gave us something else that gives us the ability to use our tongues wisely: He gave us teeth and lips which act as two "gatekeepers" for the words we speak.  Thus, a person has to think twice before s/he says something once.  Remember: a bird that escapes may be caught and returned to its owner; a word that escapes can never be returned!

Sun, September 15 2019 15 Elul 5779