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Month 8:29, Week 4:7 (Shibi'i/Sukkot), Year:Day 5936:235 AM
SHABBAT 8:4
Gregorian Calendar: Monday 12 November 2012
The Evil Tongue
Believers Serving in the Devil's Army

      "Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the Torah (Law) and judges it. When you judge the Torah (Law), you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Torah-(Law-)giver and Judge, the One who is able to save and destroy. But you - who are you to judge your neighbour?" (James 4:11-12, NIV).

    Introduction

    Grace, mercy and shabbat shalom (Sabbath Peace) in Yah'shua our Messiah (Jesus Christ) kol beit Yisra'el (all the house of Israel)!

    What is Kosher Speech?

    A couple of days ago I was reading a harrowing story of a ministry that was being torn apart by lashon hara or evil-speaking and felt it was time that we examined this subject once again. Though it's been a good four years since I last spoke to you about talebearing, gossipping or evil-speaking there is still abysmal ignorance as to what the Torah actually teaches about this subject. I think most people with common sense know how harmful gossipping and tale-bearing are but there are, in my experience, very few who actually know what positive or kosher speech is supposed to consist of. So I am going to dig a lot deeper into this subject today so that by the end of this assembly there can be no doubt as to what our conduct is supposed to be like.

    A Ubiquitous Sin Issue

    First of may I say that correct speech is a problem we all have issues with. In Judaism, where this subject has been carefully studied and analysed over the centuries, the rabbis concluded, with some justification I might add, that "improper speech" has probably been responsible for more harm than any other single sin in the history of mankind. Of the 43 sins enumerated in the Jewish Al Cheit confession recited on Yom Kippur, 11 are sins committed through speech. That's a full 25% or quarter of all kinds of sinning. Indeed, the Talmud observes - quite rightly, in my opinion, and rather amusingly - that "the tongue is an instrument so dangerous that it must be kept hidden from view, behind two protective walls (the mouth and teeth) to prevent its misuse" [1]. You have to open both before words are able to spill out.

    Chasidic Parable of the Feathers

    You have all, I know, heard the Chasidic parable about the danger of loose speech. But it's worth repeating.

    A man went about the community telling malicious lies about the rabbi. Later, he realised the wrong he had done, and began to feel remorse. He went to the rabbi and begged his forgiveness, saying he would do anything he could to make amends. The rabbi told the man, 'Take a feather pillow, cut it open, and scatter the feathers to the winds.' The man thought this was a strange request, but it was a simple enough task, and he did it gladly. When he returned to tell the rabbi that he had done it, the rabbi said, 'Now, go and gather the feathers, because you can no more make amends for the damage your words have done than you can recollect the feathers.'

    The Unrecallable Arrow

    Speech has also been compared to an arrow: once the words are released, like an arrow, they cannot be recalled, the harm they do cannot be stopped, and the harm they do cannot always be predicted, for words like arrows often go astray.

    The Internet as Speech

    However, speech these days is far more than speaking words. It's also what we write and, since so many use it, publishing on the internet. Websites on the internet are a minefield of lashon-hara. I used to think that the internet's greatest vice was pornography, and though this is a vile problem there indeed, I am now inclined to think that lashon-hara is is almost as bad, if not worse. So many people's reputations are destroyed by materials published online because there are so many lies out there. For those of you who publish online, or simply chat with people or operate groups like Facebook, what I have to share with you today is important.

    The Two Torah Mitzvot on Improper Speech

    There are two mitzvot or commandments in the Torah that address the subject of improper speech and as such are therefore very important and need to be understood clearly. So let's start there today. Please notice carefully the context of these lashon-hara passages, that is, what is said on either side of them, because the location of a mitzvah (commandment) is every bit as important as the mitzvah (commandment) itself, framing it, as it were:

      "Ye shall do no aved bamishpat (perversion of justice, injustice), thou shalt not respect the person of (show partiality to) the poor, not favour (honour) the person of the gadol (high, mighty, important, rich), but in tzedek (righteousness) shalt thou judge thy neighbour [2]. Thou shalt not go up and down as a rakhil (tale-bearer, slanderer) among thy people; neither shalt thou stand aside while thy neighbour's dahm (blood) is shed: I am Yahweh" (Lev.19:15-16, OJB).

    Between Perversion of Justice and Murder

    It is of supreme importance to be aware that the mitzvah (commandment) not to be a tale-bearer or slanderer is wedged between two others - one commanding the people not to tolerate perversion of justice or to show any kind of partiality because of rank or wealth, and the other commanding the people not to stand by idly while a murder is being committed.

    A Conspicuous Lack of Morality Today

    The other day I read a shocking story from, I think, New York where people gathered on their apartment balconies and watched for a full ten minutes without doing a thing while someone on the street below them was being murdered in cold blood. Is it any wonder, then, that there is precious little justice in the world today, where conscience is so dulled, and a sense of morality so depleted? Is it any wonder that lying is pandemic? Is it any wonder that people no longer care a fig about slander? Moreover, if your barometer of justice and morality is contemporary society, then you are truly going to be misled and spiritually destroyed. There is no merit in becoming socially adjusted to such a sick society. Rather, we must completely stand aside from it lest we be drawn in and overwhelmed by its perverseness.

    The Transferred Penalty of the One Falsely Accused

    The point of my mentioning these things is that tale-bearing and slander are so sandwitched between injustice and murder to remind us how serious they are, and to highlight the fact that Yahweh does not look upon them lightly. We also need to remember - because most evangelicals in particular, and not a few messianics too - that when we falsely accuse someone of a sin or crime that according to Yahweh's Law we come under that condemnation, curse and penalty of that very crime which we have falsely accused someone of. And considering the liberality, freedom and carelessness with which people accuse others these days, because they are no longer restrained by Yahweh's Torah by either moral or judicial restraint, this means that people are heaping curses and judgments on themselves and stand condemned before the Most High. We must never forget that. What we accuse others falsely of, we ourselves stand under the very same judgment and penalty. Have you ever wondered why why Yah'shua (Jesus) said:

      "Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned" (Luke 6:37, NKJV).

    Subjective Judgment is False

    How many of you were told by pastors and teachers that this means you shouldn't do unto others what you don't want them to do to you? This is, of course, also true, for we should not treat others the way we don't want to be treated ourselves. The only trouble with this subjective, existentialist view of the Besorah (Gospel) is that it leaves us to set the rules according to our own disposition or nature, rendering the Torah entirely subjective, which it absolutely is not.

    The Golden Rule Twisted

    The Shema (Dt.6:4) does not command us to simply love our neighbours as ourselves but to first of all love Yahweh with our whole beings, which ahavah (love) by definition also includes obeying His mitzvot (commandments - His Torah. What if I am insensitive to hard speech and speak harshly to another, justifying that because I myself don't mind harsh speech used against me? Do you suppose that is what Elohim (God) has in mind? No, otherwise we become laws unto ourselves, judging on the basis of how we mind or don't mind being treated. We make ourselves out to be Elohim (God) when we think like that. This is clearly a false or lawless application of the Golden Rule. Since obviously we are all deficient, since we are all learning emet (truth) and learning to apply it as we become better acquainted with Yahweh's rules, it follows that such a subjective besorah (gospel) is heresy, since it is based on our own feelings. Yahweh's Standard of righteousness stands above anything we may have hitherto experienced or subjectively concluded is the best way to treat people or not. We cannot judge on the basis of our own fallibility and incompleteness. That is why we have Torah.

    Judgment Must Be Righteous

    What does the next verse in this passage say?

      "Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine lev (heart); thou shalt not in any way rebuke thy neighbour, and not bear chet (sin) because of him" (v.17, OJB).

    The standard of all emet (truth) is Yahweh's Lev (Heart), which is revealed in Torah, not our own levim (hearts) which are darkened by sin and declared to in Scripture be deceptive and desperately wicked (Jer.17:9). We dare not lest we be sucked into a subjective besorah (gospel) and into sin. Emet (Truth) in divine tavnith (pattern) is the only safe way of "judging righteous judgment". It's the only was to avoid tale-bearing and slander.

    Tale-Bearing is Merchandising Information

    Now the word "tale-bearer", rakhil, is an interesting one because it's related to a word meaning 'trader' or 'merchant'. In other words, a tale-bearer or slanderer is like a merchant who deals in information rather than in goods. These days we can find an even more stark application of this mitzvot (commandments), living as we do in the 'information age', where information is readily sold as a product. The Torah is seen to apply to all ages, even our technological one.

    Trading in Reputations

    The second passage in Scripture on this subject reads:

      "Ye shall not therefore take advantage of (oppress, wrong) one another, but thou shalt fear Elohim (God); for I am Yahweh-Elohim" (Lev.25:17, OJB).

    The context of this passage is using false trading, and because, as I said, there is a direct link between tale-bearing and merchandising, this passage has long been used in conjunction with the first. Clearly, in the light of the first passage, to slander or spread malicious gossip is take advantage of the righteous and turn their reputation into merchandise for personal gain. It doesn't matter what form that gain takes - whether it be economic, social or the shere perverse pleasure that comes of such malicicious behaviour, it is evil either way and brings the perpetrator under cursing and judgment. Justice may not occur instantaneously, but the sin, because of its evil nature, accumulates rather like bank interest, piling on top of the slanderer's head until he is crushed by its overwhelming weight. I have know many slanderers driven virtually insane by their lashon hara, including one woman who falsely accused her husband of adultery, who in the end went completely insane. Yes, madness is definitely one of the fruits of being guilty of lashon hara because demons take especial delight in beating up such people inside.

    The Jewish Understanding

    The Jews have long understood these passages to correctly mean that to say anything about another person, even it is true, even if it is not negative, even if it is not secret, even if it hurts no one, even if the person himself would tell the same thing if asked, to be a violation of Torah. The reason that Yahweh links tale-bearing and slander to bloodshed is not without historical precedent.

    The Lashon Hara of Doeg the Edomite

    Many of you will no doubt remember the story of Doeg the Edomite (1 Sam.21-22). In case you don't, Doeg saw Achimelech the Cohen (Priest) give David bread and a sword from the Mishkan (Tabernacle), a completely innocent act intended to aid a leading member of Saul's court. Doeg reported this to Saul and though Doeg's story was completely true, and neither negative nor secret, and Achimelech would have told Saul exactly the same thing if he had been asked (in fact, he did so later). Yet Saul misinterpreted this tale as proof that Achimelech was supporting David in a rebellion, and proceeded to slaughter all but one of the cohenim (priests) at Nob. Doeg engaged in lashon hara even though what he said was the emet (truth).

    All Things Are Considered Confidential Without Given Consent

    Now I realise that this may be hard for someone raised with a Western mindset to understand, because we tend to be more liberal with our mouths, but it is so important that I must clearly spell it out. In Yahweh's Law all things are considered a secret or confidential unless a person specifically says otherwise. It is no accident, therefore, that Yahweh constantly says to Moses:

      "Speak to the Children of Israel, saying:..."

    or

      "Speak to the Children of Israel and tell them:..."

    When Yahweh's Devarim May Be Repeated and When Not

    If Yahweh had not specifically said this to Moses, he would have been forbidden from repeating His devarim (words)! Why was it necessary for Yahweh to do this? Because it is a fallen human tendency to indiscriminately blabber. When a prophet is commanded to repeat Yahweh's Devarim (Words) they are always prefaced by, "Thus saith Yahweh", not simply to indicate that these are Elohim's (God's) own Devarim (Words) but to also indicate that permission has been granted to speak them. Just because Yahweh speaks to us personally does not mean we have the right to speak them to anyone else. Thus often Yahweh's servants are specifically forbidden from repeating His Devarim (Words) to others because it's either the wrong time or because they're not supposed to know. Thus Yah'shua (Jesus) once said to His talmidim (disciples):

      "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now" (John 16:12, NKJV).

    And Yahweh said to Daniel:

      "Go your way, Daniel, because the devarim (words) are closed up and sealed until the time of the end" (Dan.12:9, NIV).

    The Listener is Worse Than the Talebearer

    The person who listens to gossip, tale-bearing or evil-speaking is even worse than the person who tells it, because no harm could be done by gossip if no one listened to it. It has been said that lashon hara (disparaging speech) kills three: the person who speaks it, the person who hears it, and the person about whom it is told [3].

    The Evil Tongue

    The wickedest of these sins of tale-bearing is called lashon hara in Hebrew (literally, "the evil tongue"), which involves discrediting or saying negative things about a person, even if those negative things are true. Indeed, true statements are even more damaging than false ones, because you can't defend yourself by disproving the negative statement if it's true! Many rightly equate lashon hara with murder, idol worship, incest and adultery.

    All Guards Gone in the West

    Many find the idea that Yahweh so strictly regulates our speech in Torah highly disturbing because they are used to shooting their mouths off in a culture that has virtually lost all self-restraint. You might even say that lashon hara is the default mode of modern society! That's what the current generation is being brought up on so few actually know how to guard their tongues, let alone desire to do so.

    When Information Becomes Legitimate Public Knowledge

    So when is something 'public knowledge'? When does repeating something not become a sin? The Torah Law of Witness establishes something if there are two or more witnesses, whether for a court of law or for a marriage. However, there are also 'hedges' or 'walls' depending what the matter discussed is. If it's a marriage matter, it is limited within the walls of the marriage. If it's a family matter, then it is limited within the walls of the family. This is common sense. In this way we avoid the sin of motzi shem ra - the sin of spreading a bad report.

    The Son and His Drunkard Father

    To give you an illustration that I have used before: There was a bad teacher who once shamed one of his pupils by telling his class that that pupil's father was a drunk. The fact that this fact was 'truth', however, was none of the affair of the class - it was a family matter, the mother had spoken to the teacher confidentially to explain why her son was having problems at school, and if the teacher had done the right thing, he would have not commited the sin of motzi shem ra - of spreading a bad report in front of those whom it did not concern. Motzi shem ra is viewed in Torah as the 'lowest of the low', hitting below the belt.

    But even if you hear something said in the public arena in the presence of two, three or more witnesses, and even if retelling the matter can cause no harm, you should still not repeat it because you would be spreading gossip further.

    When Tale-Bearing is Allowed and Required

    So when is tale-bearing allowed or even required? If one having toqef of authority demands it, like a father in a family situation or an Elders' Court in a Local Assembly in the case of giving testimony because of a transgression, or a judge in a secular court of law if a felony has been committed.

    Some Examples

    To give an example, let us say that Jim tells Fred in confidence that he has stolen from Albert. Fred would be obliged to break that confidence if they were brothers and their father demanded to know the emet (truth) or if the three were members of a congregation and an Elders' Court had been convened to hear an accusation.

    I am sure you can think of many common sense examples. A person is required to reveal information to protect a person from immediate, serious harm. For example, if a person hears that others are plotting to kill someone, he is required to reveal this information. That is another reason why the mitzvah (commandment) not to go about as a tale-bearer is juxtaposed with "neither shalt thou stand aside while thy neighbour's dahm (blood) is shed".

    In limited circumstances, you would also be permitted to reveal information if someone were entering into a relationship that he would not enter if he knew certain information. For example, it may be permissible to tell a person that his prospective business partner is untrustworthy, or that a prospective spouse has a disease or hasn't been honest about his or her chastity. This exception would obviously be subject to significant and complex limitations; however, if those limitations are satisfied, the person with the information would be required to reveal it.

    But in all of these exceptions, a person is not permitted to reveal information if the same objective can be fulfilled without revealing information. For example, if you could talk a person out of marrying for reasons other than the disease or the unchastity, you would not need to reveal the disease or the unchaste behaviour.

    Do We Need Complex Rules for Lashon Hara?

    It is impossible to make a set of rules for every situation without ending up with something like the Talmud. We have to apply basic Torah principles and use common sense and, where needed, the revelation of the Ruach haQodesh Holy Spirit). If in doubt, defer to the counsel of one who is in toqef (authority) over you. That is what husbands, fathers and pastors are for, and also mothers in the absence of fathers.

    The Talmud and Examples of Lashon Hara

    In Judaism there is a complex corpus of rules, which is why the Talmud is so large, as I discovered to my amazement and shock when one day I walked into Oxford's famous Blackwell's book shop and asked for a copy. The assistant took me to a a long table stretching several metres next to a rail where dozens upon dozens of black hardbound books stretched for almost as far as the eye could see. I was extremely embarrassed for here was I, a na´ve student with a very limited book budget, looking at a prospective purchase that would take every penny I had for the next several years! Anyway I learned my lesson.

    Clearly the rabbis have given considerable thought to the question of lashon hara over the centuries so I thought I would extract the summaries of some 'case studies'. Think these over and consider whether you agree with them or not:

    • 1. You may not call a person by a derogatory nickname, or by any other embarrassing name, even if he is used to it;
    • 2. You may not ask an uneducated person for an opinion on a scholarly matter (that would draw attention to his lack of knowledge or education);
    • 3. You may not ask a merchant how much he would sell something for if you have no intention of buying;
    • 4. You may not refer someone to another person for assistance when you know the other person cannot help (in other words, it's a violation of Jewish law to give someone the run-around!);
    • 5. You may not deceive a person, even if no harm is done by the deception; for example, you may not sell non-kosher meat to a non-Jew telling him that it is kosher, even though no harm is done to the non-Jew by this deception;
    • 6. You may not sell a person damaged goods without identifying the damage, even if the price you give is fair for the goods in their damaged condition;
    • 7. You may not offer a person a gift or invite a person to dinner if you know that the person will not accept;
    • 8. You may not compliment a person if you do not mean it.

    What I find interesting in looking at rulings such as these is how we subjectively draw the lines differently. Most of these, I am sure you will agree, are common sense once you have a basic spiritual Torah-based ethic and yet for some people it seems that these things must be spelled out, and often more than once. For a person regenerated by the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) most of these are self-evident, though some may seem a bit strange. How we react personally will be a function of our surrenderedness to Yah'shua (Jesus), our adherence to the plain sense of Torah, and our sensitivity. Obviously those with dulled consciences react somewhat differently to those whose consciences are finely tuned to emet (truth), so it will depend where we are on the pathway to full sanctification and how quickly we shed our former unsaved ways of thinking and feeling.

    Not Taking Advantage

    So when Yahweh says: "Ye shall not therefore take advantage of (oppress, wrong) one another", what this means is that you shall not wrong one another with speech. This includes statements that would embarrass, insult or deceive a person, or cause unnecessary emotional pain or distress. Since we all wrong one another one way or another, we are on a constant learning curve as we learn both to judge righteous judgment as well as to show grace or undeserved loving kindness. I doubt there is anyone who is flawless in this - only Yah'shua (Jesus) never sinned in this area, and that is a remarkable accomplishment, I think you'll agree, qualifying Him ultimately to be the flawless sacrifice for the sins of mankind.

    A Concise Definition

    My own opinion about lashon hara has changed over the years the more I have become better acquainted with both the letter and the intent of Yahweh's Torah. I am still fine-tuning my own understanding of this difficult subject - I'm on the learning-curve too. One summary that challenges me, and which I an still digesting, defines lashon hara in this way:

      "Anything which, if it would be publicised by word of mouth or in writing, would cause the subject physical or monetary damage, or would cause him anguish or fear, is Lashon Hara".

    Is that too extreme? And what are the exceptions? Doesn't revelation and repentance by definition cause us angusih and fear? For sure, so really we have to add a qualifier to such a statement, namely, that such should indeed be our default mode except in those cases where we are following a Ruach-(Spirit-)-directed injunction from Scripture to call someone to account and so save them from a fall or from falling further into sin. But obviously this is a major responsibility and a mandate we should not execute casually or take lightly, remembering that we shall be judged according to Torah even as we judge.

    Hang Around and Check Out

    We hear so much lashon hara about people which we can't possibly know whether they are true or false. We shouldn't listen to it, whether it's actually true or not, though this should not cause us to cease being cirumspect while we learn to develop trust in someone who has had lashon hara spoken of him by others. I have had bucket loads of lashon hara spoken against me over the years which is inevitable both because I am a spiritual leader as well because I sometimes teach some pretty controversial doctrines that are not liked by the mainstream in either Christianity or Messianism. So you could say that is this is an occupational hazzard for people in my position, unpleasant though it is. So if you come across people like myself, hang around, listen to what we say and how we live - and discover for yourself whether what malevolent people say about us is true or not, whether we are self-seeking or not. Most who slander us either havn't a clue who we really are or are grinding some ax in order to justify sinful behaviour. In truth, this is the lot of all believers whether they are leaders or not.

    Teaching by Exmple

    The best way to teach how to avoid lashon hara is, of course, by setting a good example for others to imitate by in your imitating those whom you admire and respect or whose toqef (authority) you choose to be or are under by divine appointment.

    Five Steps to Making Lashon Hara Right

    If you are guilty of committing lashon hara then the five steps to making teshuvah or repenting are required:

    • 1. Regretting one's actions;
    • 2. Confessing the sin privately to Yahweh;
    • 3. Covenanting with Yahweh to not repeat the sin in the future;
    • 4. Making amends or repaying damages (where possible) to the one you have harmed; and
    • 5. Asking for forgiveness.

    Obviously if the one you have offended won't allow you to make amends or apologise then fulfilling the first three steps are sufficient.

    Just Say No to Lashon Hara

    If we find ourselves in the presence of a person or persons speaking lashon hara we must refuse to accept the information as being true, whether it is or not, without any evidence that it is. Obviously we can have our suspicions and, if necessary, investigate. We should certainly never take action against someone based on lashon hara. By default we are to give people the benefit of the doubt. If you find yourself amongst people who are committing lashon hara, either leave the group or try to change the topic. If you're stuck there, make the decision not to accept the lashon hara as being true and certainly do not pretend to agree or accept the lashon hara by putting on a false face, avoiding eye contact, or wearing a blank expression.

    Conclusion

    In my nearly 30 years of ministry I have seen more harm done by lashon hara than practically any other sin. It's such a big matter that it deserves serious attention and certainly requires much effort on our part not to fall into it and so end up doing the devil's work. It is your duty to privately and respectfully tell perpetrators of this behaviour, if they're believers, that lashon hara is a sin, and if they're not, that such conversation is against your principles and that you don't wish to participate any further. Someone who does this, especially if the one against whom is being spoken is your enemy or someone you dislike, shows creat integrity and character, and will earn respect. He might even convert his enemy into becoming a friend! [4] Amen.

    Endnotes

    [1] Judaism 101, Speech and Lashon Ha-Ra
    [2] This was reaffirmed by Yah'shua (Jesus) who said: "Judge not according to the (by mere) appearance, but judge righteous judgment" (John 7:24, KJV)
    [3] Talmud Arachin 15b
    [4] For a very good discussion, from the point of view of Judaism, see Arthur B. Morgenstern, Ethics of Speech

    Comments From Readers

    [1] "Pastor, I am gaping at your insight and knowledge...wisdom which you could only have obtained by earnestly seeking Abba Yahweh's face in your personal relationship with Him. I salute your espectfully in Yah'shua's Name!" (AMN, South Africa, 19 January 2017)

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