The Good World
This week's portion talks of the consequences of negative speech about others, known as lashon hara.
In Jewish tradition, the person most harmed by lashon hara is not the person about whom it is spoken, nor the one who speaks it, but rather the one who listens to the lashon hara. How does this work?
The Sages use a parable to explain why lashon hara is so terrible. A teacher and his student are walking along the street. They see a dog's carcass. "Disgusting," says the student, "it stinks." "Yes," responds the teacher, "but how white are its teeth." This, the Sages say, explains the evil of lashon hara. Get it? I figured maybe not... Let me try to clarify.
There is nothing in this world that is wholly good and nothing that is wholly bad. Some things are clearly "more good" and some "more bad," but everything is nevertheless a composite. A dead dog is disgusting - but it also has white teeth. What a person sees is his choice. A person can see a maggot-infested carcass and feel negative. Or he can see shiny white teeth and take pleasure in the beauty. It's an extreme case, but the principle is always the same. Whether a person's world is seen as good or as bad depends solely on the perspective he chooses for himself. In some situations it's harder to find good and in some it's easier, but it's always there.
Human beings are no exception. There is fodder for lashon hara to be spoken about anyone. But there is good to be enjoyed in anyone as well. When a person speaks lashon hara, he has simply chosen to highlight the bad. And when a person highlights the bad in human beings, who are more full of good than any other of God's creations, it can only affect how he feels about the world in general. Happy people simply don't speak lashon hara. And if they start, they won't remain happy for too long.
The speaker of lashon hara has chosen to see bad instead of good; and what he sows, he will reap. But the person to whom he relates it, is being lured into the same perspective as the speaker. He did not start with the speaker's negative view. He might well have been feeling positive about the world, but now he is being drawn into feeling negative. His perspective is being subtly changed.
On a spiritual level, the person about whom the lashon hara is spoken will only suffer superficial damage. The person who speaks it is already suffering from negativity. But the one who listens is having his world view shifted in the wrong direction. He is the one who is harmed most by the experience.