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Evil Speech as the Most Dangerous Byproduct of Society

May 8, 2015

Last week we saw that the sages said that although idolatry, bloodshed, and immorality are the worst sins, lashon hara is as bad as all of them. We also saw how our ancestors were only condemned to die in the desert when they violated the prohibition of speaking ill of the Land of Israel. The first question: was it not the case that speaking lashon hara was not the worst thing the generation of the Exodus did, but rather just the straw that broke the camel’s back? I answered that every time our ancestors sinned in the desert, it was really only a minority who did so. Ultimately, only the guilty parties were punished with death: it was at most tens of thousands at a time, whereas the entire numbered population was punished for accepting the spies’ report. That is, it may have been the last straw, but, more than that, it was near universal in its performance and in its consequences for the nation.

It is also interesting to note that it is because of our well-adjusted and supportive society that many of us are saved from ever being involved in the three cardinal sins; our societal norms do not present us with many opportunities to socialize with women; our organized religion and its scheduling prevent us from ever remotely encountering real idolatry; our society likewise prevents us from acting violently toward one another. Yet, it is the same society that presents us with the greatest opportunities and temptations for speaking lashon hara. That is, the very forces that we create as a group to protect us from the three cardinal sins are the same forces that push us toward the sin of  lashon hara. It is for this very reason that the speaker of lashon hara is punished not with excision or lashes, but with expulsion from society, because he both threatens the societal fabric and misuses the very societal glue that protects us from the greatest sins.


From → halacha, original, parasha

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