What is called innocent but is, in fact, really deadly? What is called juicy, but is, in fact, really poisonous? The answer is gossip. Gossiping, or saying things, even true things, about people that they would prefer not to be said, can really cause them a lot of pain and sometimes even ruin their lives. In this week's Torah portion we learn how a person who would speak gossip (Lashon Hara in Hebrew) would be afflicted with a leprous-like skin disease called tzaraat. This was a miraculous disease whose only cure was for the person to go into isolation. He would have to think about the harm that gossip could do and take upon himself not to do it anymore. Only then would he be healed. God gave us the power of speech as a precious gift, and wants us to use this gift to help people to feel better, and not to put them down.
In our story, we meet a girl who knows how to use her power of speech.
Joan Halpern clicked off the light, and carefully locked the door to the teacher's lounge. She enjoyed the responsibility of her job as teacher's assistant and tried to take it seriously.
Joan slipped the stack of newly graded tests she was carrying neatly into an envelope and turned down the hall on her way back to the classroom. She hadn't gotten far when she felt a tap on the shoulder. Joan swung around, startled, but breathed a sigh of relief to discover it was her good friend, Kelly. "Kelly, are you trying to scare the life out of me?" she scolded with a smile.
"Sorry" said Kelly, "but I just wanted to catch you before you disappeared. I want to get all the news hot off the press."
"What do you mean?" asked Joan.
"Oh don't hold out on me!" said her friend. "I know you just graded the science tests. C'mon, let's hear the dirt! You know who aced it, and who flunked it."
Joan clutched the papers close to her. "No way, Kelly. You know I'm not allowed to tell. Besides, what do you care about anyone else's grades?"
Kelly threw up her hands. "I'm just sooo curious! I want to find out if that know-it-all, Cindy, is really as smart as she thinks she is, and if the new kid who never opens her mouth got any answers right, and..."
Joan stood still. She looked at the stack of papers she was holding. Would it really be so bad to let her friend know who got what grades? Then the girl frowned and shook her head. "Kelly, don't talk like that. Its really not right to gossip about people."
Her friend straightened herself, and declared, "Who's gossiping? I'm only saying what's true, and asking you to tell me the truth about people, as well!"
Joan stood firm. "'True' gossip is still gossip, and it hurts people. How would you like it if I went around telling everybody your 'true' score, or if people were telling 'true' secrets about you behind your back?"
The girl blushed. "I guess you're right," admitted Kelly. "I definitely wouldn't like it. But, if we can't gossip anymore, what will we ever find to talk about?"
Joan laughed. "Kelly," she said, "don't worry. Good friends like us will always find plenty of interesting things to talk about - and gossip free!"
Q. How did Kelly feel when Joan wouldn't tell her the 'news'?
A. At first she was upset, since she was curious. But when her friend explained why, Kelly understood that is wasn't right to gossip, even if she was curious.
Q. How would you feel if someone was gossiping about you, or calling you names behind your back? A. I'd feel sad because people's unkind words can really hurt.
Q. Why do you think that some people like to gossip?
A. It could be that when they put other people down, they feel like they are putting themselves up. But really a person can feel good about himself and good about others without a need to put them down. Gossip doesn't do anything good for anybody, and causes a lot of harm.
Q. What could be wrong with saying bad things about people, if you know that it is true?
A. The fact that something is true doesn't give a person the right to gossip about it. Besides, there are many times that we really didn't get all the facts straight and it's really not as true as we think. The world will be a much better friendlier place when people use their power of speech to heal and not to harm.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. What do you think should be the balance in the media between refraining from gossip to protect privacy, versus the people's 'right to know'?
A. Some of the things reported about people by the media are truly necessary to be known for a genuine constructive purpose. However, the vast majority is actually superfluous and often an irresponsible attempt to attract an audience without regard for any harm it may cause the person reported about. The so-called right to know is really not a valid consideration when weighed against the harmful effects of gossip.
Q. Why do you think that some people like to gossip?
A. It could be that when they put other people down, they feel like they are putting themselves up. But really a person can feel good about themselves and good about others without a need to put them down. Gossip doesn't do anything good for anybody, and causes a lot of harm.
Q. Is there anything wrong with merely listening to gossip, as long as one doesn't actively participate?
A. Listening to gossip is in certain ways just as bad if not worse behavior than speaking gossip. For one thing, it encourages others to spread gossip. , If there's no audience, no one will gossip. It also causes the esteem of the one spoken about to go down in the listener's eyes, and fills the listener, and the world with more, unnecessary negativity.