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Tazria(Leviticus 12-13)

Murderous Speech

The affliction of tzara'at comes primarily as a result of loshon hara - talking badly about others. The Sages make an amazing statement in the Talmud. They say that to speak negatively about another person is worse than murder. I think everyone would agree that it is terrible to speak negatively about another person. But can it possibly be worse than killing a person? I, for one, would much rather that someone spoke negatively about me than killed me.

In order to understand, we must think a little more deeply about what the Sages are saying. They do not mean that loshon hara is worse than murder in a general sense. Obviously, murder is worse, as proven by the fact that one is obligated to die rather than commit murder, which is not the case with loshon hara. What the Sages mean is that a specific evil is inherent within the transgression of loshon hara, that does not exist within murder. What is it?

Generally when a person kills another, there is a motive - jealousy, money, power, passion. There is a tangible benefit to the murderer and that is why s/he does it. Obviously, that doesn't make it right. It is evil, but in some sense an explainable evil. Were the murderer to be able to achieve the same result without killing, he would probably do so. Of course there are insane psychopaths who kill for fun, but for the most part people who kill would prefer another way. That makes it no less evil, just more understandable.

When someone speaks badly of someone else, however, generally there is no motive, no reason and no tangible gain. It benefits you in no way. You enjoy the evil itself; the negativity, the cruelness and the sense of power that it brings. You also enjoy other people listening to (and enjoying) your evil; it takes two to tango. As such, not only do you enjoy the evil, you drag others down with you.

And one final difference: The one who murders will not learn to enjoy murder and want to do it again. But the one who speaks loshon hara will do so again and again and again. The more you do it, the more it becomes a part of you. While the results of murder may be worse for the victim, the long-term results of negative speech are much worse for the one who speaks it. The shock of having murdered might spur you to change. Speaking loshon hara, on the other hand, will just drag you further and further into the quagmire of petty mediocrity. Not only do you hurt another human being, you destroy your own soul in the process.

Published: March 1, 2008

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Visitor Comments: 13

(12) Anonymous, March 26, 2014 11:13 AM

Great!

This is great! Thank you so much for posting it!

(11) Anonymous, April 12, 2013 11:35 AM

similar motivations

Do people not speak lashon harah for similar motives to those listed for murder? "jealousy, money, power, passion" anger etc... Can't people also enjoy murder and therefore decide to do it again?

(10) Charlotte, April 12, 2013 2:47 AM

Responsibility and Lashon HaRah

It is clear when we gossip it is Lashon HaRah, serves nobody.

Sometimes you have to tell people for their own protection that a Store owner is a Thief ,protecting others is not a bad thing to do, and I admit there is a certain amount of attitude that comes along with it, but it is “Buyer Beware”, may be seen as Lashon HaRah, but I do not think we pay for it.

I think gossip serves no one, but having transparent society where people don’t just shut up because of fear of saying something is just as bad.

(9) Shelly, April 12, 2013 2:22 AM

GOSSIP

Anonymous hit the nail on the head. S/he states:" I noticed the less I speak negatively of others, the more peace I feel inside myself". I, too, feel less angered by others and have more self control. It is an empowering feeling to be in complete control of what comes out of ones mouth and what words one chooses to speak. Yet, it is an effort for me to do so. I have to make a conscious effort to refrain from joining in or contributing to conversations. Yet, that is what makes it so worth while. "Stop, think, proceed" (S.T. P.). It's what many of us do when we eat (making sure the food is kosher before we "join in"). I feel that is what separates me from others. It does not make me "better", it simply makes me different in a positive way.

(8) mintrose, April 11, 2013 8:56 PM

i disagree ....

i have heard many times over the years that "one who speaks negatively about others generally has no motive" ... i beg to differ regarding that. i have both been the victim of loshon hora and, unfortunately and embarrassingly, the perpetrator as well. i believe that on the occasions that i have spoken loshon hora i did have a notive .... i wanted that person, usually someone who was not nice to me, to 'fall from grace' in the eyes of another .... to be not liked or be disgraced.... to be punished in some way for what i percieved they had done to me ....

i believe that since this was my motive, others might have it as well.

regardless of the motive, to defame someone else publicly is a serious aviera, and i have been guilty of doing this in retaliation, as well. being hurt by another often results in the victim retaliating in some way, often with loshon hora. it is a very difficult thing to refrain responding with L.H. if it was done to you. i have taught myself to remember the last passage of the sh'mona esray in 'keeping my tongue from evil, my lips from speaking guile .... that the designs of 'all who curse me' be as dust ....

it works at times.

it is also a consolation to know that Ha-Shem is particularly partial to the prayers of someone who doesn't respond to an insult, overlooks, or forgives. this has kept me from retaliating with loshon hora more often than not.

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