The Power of the Tongue              1 Iyar

“I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and hers; it shall bruise your head and you’ll bruise his heel”. Bereshit 3:15

Parashat Tazria Metzora develops a theme which, from the beginning of creation has been a headache for us as human beings: stemming from namely, “the tongue”. Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis says: “Most people think that lashon hara is about speaking slander or lies, but that’s a mistake. All malicious or pejorative speech falls under the category of lashon hara, even if what is being said is true.” She continues, “Lashon hara breeds division, enmity, contempt, and forces opposed to harmony and well-being.”

According to the Torah, Lashon Hara has consequences that far surpass our daily transgressions. Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and life lie in the power of the tongue “. This organ is the only member of the body that is, at the same time, “internal and external”, and to protect it, we have two physical defences: “the teeth and the lips”.

Linked to Tazria is Metzora, which stems from the words “motzei and rah,” implying “to speak ill of others.” In Parashat Shemini, we learned that we must take care of what goes into our mouths; here, we are learning that we must also take care of what comes out of our mouths as Yeshua said in Matthew 15:11 “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of it.”

Rabenu Yeshua clarifies this teaching of lashon hara in Matthew 15 as follows. “Yeshua answered them: And why do you break God’s commandment because of tradition?” God said, “Honor your father and your mother,” and also, “Whoever curses his father or mother will be put to death.” You, on the other hand, teach that a son can say to his father or his mother: “Any help that I could give you I have already dedicated as an offering to God.” In that case, the said son does not have to honour his father. Thus, because of tradition, you nullify the word of God. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied of you: “These people honour me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. In vain they adore me; their teachings are nothing but human rules.”

Here it becomes obvious that Lashon Hara contradicts what God has set down in His Torah. In this case, the tradition “was adjusted to the convenience of a certain group of people” who ignored honouring their father and mother with the excuse that instead they were giving it to God as an offering. It’s important to the Eternal that children honour their parents by helping to support them financially, as well as bringing an offering. One did not preclude the other; simply speaking, their interpretation was annulling the Torah.

Second, Lashon Hara wrongly teaches us to exchange the Torah for invented traditions that supplant God’s will for us. Leviticus 19:14 says “You shall not curse the deaf, nor set a stumbling block before the blind, but fear your God; I am the LORD”. In Matthew 15:14, Yeshua recriminates them saying that “they teach traditions of men and are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, they will both fall into a pit.” With this, weren’t they contradicting the Torah as well?

Third, lashon hara implies being inconsistent in what we say, think and do. That is why Yeshua quoted Isaiah 29:13 “These people praise me with their mouths and honour me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Their worship is nothing more than a command taught by men.” The heart in Hebraic understanding includes intention, thought, will, wisdom, moral and physical way of life, and intellect.  When we use the siddur to recite prayers, but our thoughts are elsewhere, it is like committing Lashon Hara because we are expressing with our mouths something that is not true or real to us at that moment.

On the other hand, the Word (the emission of vibrating sounds) was used by the Eternal to create. Tehilim 33: 6 says, “By the Word of the LORD were the heavens created, and by the breath of his mouth, the stars.” Also, Yochanan 1:3–5 says: “Everything was created by the Word, and without the Word nothing was made. Life is born from the Word, and the Word, which is life, is also our light. The light shines in the darkness, and nothing can destroy it!” Do we understand that the words we emit produce frequencies that translate into messages of life or death? This is scientifically proven; to cite an example, Professor Alberto Requena says: “One of the principles is vibration, simply stated: Nothing is motionless; everything moves; everything vibrates …”. He gives an in-depth explanation of the frequencies of how they create what our senses perceive as physical reality, but all that we see around us are nothing more than atoms vibrating at various frequencies and waves. Therefore, when we emit sounds with our mouths, we release energies that can produce life or death.

When we read about the beginning of creation in Bereshit 1, we see its process, from being in a state of Tohu V’vohu (without form, and void) to order and a habitable place for God’s creation through the expression, וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, Vayomer Elohim, and Adonai said“. He culminates His creation by blessing it when He says in Bereshit 2:3: “V’yevarech Elohim וַיְבָרֶךְ אֱלֹהִים”, an expression from the very mouth of God.

Rashi explains why a person with tzara’at צָּרַעַת had to be put outside the camp: He said: “Since, by his lashon hara, a man was separated from his wife, and from his neighbour, so he too must be separated.” In other words, since that person who spoke lashon hara which separates people, that person must also be separated from others (i.e., measure for measure).

The question arises from the verse mentioned at the beginning of this message in Genesis 3:15 and I repeat, “I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and hers; it shall bruise your head and you’ll bruise his heel”. Why is there enmity?” Simply because of lashon hara, the first spoken words in history. The serpent “distorted” the words of the Eternal to the woman, who represents the emotional areas (that do not think) of the human being.  “The serpent suggested to her: God ate of the tree and created the world so if you eat… YOU TOO WILL BE LIKE GOD — the Creators of worlds.” The snake spoke lashon hara about God to Eve, and the result was that the snake was separated from Eve, placing enmity between it and the woman, between its seed and hers.”  Rabbi Elisha Coffman says: “When a person speaks lashon hara, it not only separates others from the one to whom he is referring but eventually causes, as well, a separation between the person speaking lashon hara and the person listening to it.”

It brings destruction, injury, separation, and eventually death. Rabbi Shraga Simmons says that one of the major reasons for speaking badly about others is low self-esteem; by so doing we elevate ourselves in front of the rest of the community. This is why today the media has built an empire around debasing important people, and why anti-Semitism exists.

I personally struggle with this every day. Yaakov (James) said that this organ (the tongue) is so small yet difficult to govern. He makes a comparison with the rudder that governs an entire ship on the sea. Nowadays, as our RANEBI used to say, even if we do Teshuva, the destruction generated by lashon hara is often impossible to rectify, and he gave us the example of a rabbi who tore a piece of paper in a park and then tried to put it back together; it was almost impossible to do. Even so, we observe that God gives us the gift of Teshuva, acknowledging what we said and if possible, doing what is necessary to rectify our wrongdoing.

In the Talmud in Kiddushin 30b it is written: “Our Sages taught, “And you shall place [וְשַׂמְתֶּם vesamtem] these words of Mine in your hearts” taken from Deuteronomy 11:18. Read this as saying sam tam, a perfect elixir. The Torah is compared to an elixir of life…. So too, the Holy One, Blessed is He, said to Israel: My children, I created an evil inclination, which is the wound, and I created the Torah as its antidote. If you dedicate yourself to the study of Torah, you will not be handed over to the evil inclination, as it is said: “If you do good, will you not be raised up?” (Genesis 4:7). Anyone who dedicates himself to the study of Torah rises above the evil inclination…. And if you do not dedicate yourself to the study of Torah, you are given over to the power of it, as it is written: “Sin lurks at the door” (Genesis 4:7). Also, all the deliberations of the evil inclination will be upon you, as it is said in the same verse: “And for you is its desire”. And if you want, you will rule over it, as it says in the conclusion of the verse: “But you can rule over it” (Genesis 4:7), therefore, we can cling to the Torah and find an elixir against this evil. Finally, it is to break the cycle of Lashon Hara, either by setting limits to what we speak, our conversations, and what we listen to, directly or indirectly, and thinking carefully about what we will say.”

With our words, are we building up, are we creating, are we uniting, do we edify others, do we bless, do we improve our environment, do we contaminate those who listen to us, do we help others grow by bringing them light? Let us be upright, and may the Eternal keep us from erring with our tongue.

Shabbat Shalom.

Mauricio Quintero