Chofetzing Chaim

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Why it pays to keep a civil tongue at the table.

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 Dear Rivkie,

 With all the Yomim Tovim (holidays) behind us, I’ve been thinking about the lashon hara (derogatory speech) I heard around the table when getting together with friends and family. And not just as an observer; I oftentimes (I am ashamed to admit) participated in the discussion! This is especially hard to imagine myself doing just days after all the teshuva (repentance) for this and a multitude of other sins on Yom Kippur, but it seems to happen every year.

 

How do I improve going forward? How do I keep my Shabbos table free of lashon hara while still having a good time with friends at meals?

 Signed,

 Ashamed Ahuva

 

Dear Ahuva,

 I am so glad you asked this question! I’m sure most of my readers will say, “Rivkie, you are surely above reproach, being that you are the queen of great advice.” I appreciate the compliment, but, unfortunately, I like a good piece of gossip as much as the next gal and I wish I was better about it. As such, researching this question served as a crucial reminder to myself as well to stay away from lashon hara, and why.

Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan (Jan. 26, 1839-Sept. 15, 1933), also known as the Chofetz Chaim, wrote the definitive book on this topic — in fact, it earned him his name. The phrase “Chofetz Chaim” comes from Tehillim (Psalms) 34:13: “Who is the man that desires life (hachofetz chaim), who loves days to see good? Guard your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking guile ...”

Pretty deep, no? But why, you might ask, is the prohibition against derogatory speech so important? I posed the question to some of my children.

My elementary school-aged kid: “First of all, it’s not nice, and second of all, we are saying something bad about another Jewish person.”

My young teen: “We want mashiach [the messiah] and in order to merit it, we need to be united and speaking about each other makes us have sinas chinam [baseless hatred].”

All those tuition dollars at work!

Speaking about other people also keeps us from looking at the ways we can improve ourselves. It can keep people from trusting you as well; they may think, “If you are saying this about our neighbor, are you also talking about me?” Furthermore, once accusations are made about someone, they can never be taken back (enough said).

One amazing resource that can help us work on this issue in our lives is the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation (powerofspeech.org), whose mission is “to foster peace and harmony by making the Torah’s mitzvot of interpersonal relationships a vivid reality and priority for every Jewish man, woman and child.” One of the biggest programs the Foundation runs is its Shmiras Haloshon (guarding the tongue) program, which provides inspiration and programming to help kids and adults refrain from speaking lashon hara.

One trick I’ve actually been trying lately (yes, I have, dear husband of mine!) is to imagine what I would do if I heard people talking about me. Even when people are talking about arguably innocuous things, it’s still pretty icky to be talked about at all.

All in all, it is human nature to be interested in other people’s lives and want to get and give information, especially at a table where we gather to socialize and enjoy ourselves. But, it behooves us to put a kibosh on lashon hara. Keep your speech pure and you will be rewarded.

 All the best,

 Rivkie