As important as ahavas Yisroel and shemiras
haloshon are throughout the year, watching our speech
during the Three Weeks is imperative, for we are taught that
the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed because of sinas
chinom (Yoma 9b).
At this time of year, when we mourn the destruction of the
Beis Hamikdash and yearn for its rebuilding, we must
strengthen our ahavas Yisroel and eradicate sinas
chinom from our midst. The Chofetz Chaim writes,
if Hashem destroyed the Beis Hamikdash because of
sinas chinom and loshon hora, He certainly
won't permit it to be rebuilt if we have not cured ourselves
of these spiritual maladies (Chofetz Chaim,
We may even ponder the propriety of mourning if we do not
undertake to be more vigilant with our speech. This can be
compared to one whose car ran out of petrol and broke down.
Instead of trying to obtain petrol, the motorist cries,
bemoaning his sorry predicament. Yes, it might be difficult
to get petrol when the petrol gauge is on empty, especially
if one was driving on a deserted highway and the nearest
service station is ten kilometers away. Still, wallowing in
self-pity will not get their car back on the road. The only
solution is to make the long trek to the nearest service
Since we know that sinas chinom and loshon hora
are the causes of our long exile, if we do not first endeavor
to rectify these sins, our mourning is empty and useless --
we are no better than our pathetic stranded motorist.
We are all painfully aware of the tremendous crisis in
Eretz Yisroel. Palestinian terrorists have been
responsible for murdering and maiming hundreds of Jews and
placing the rest of Eretz Yisroel in the grip of fear.
Our brothers and sisters there are living in turmoil. As we
shall see, now more than ever, we must focus on shemiras
Although speaking loshon hora does not cause bodily
harm, often the victim suffers more than if he had been
physically abused. Cuts and bruises heal, but the humiliation
and shame from loshon hora can leave deep emotional
scars that might never heal.
In addition, one is oblivious to the scope of damage his
words can cause. A gunshot cannot kill out of the gun's range
but loshon hora can travel and cause havoc throughout
the world. A word spoken in Melbourne could cause someone in
Eretz Yisroel to lose a job. A thoughtless
conversation in Yerushalayim could break up a shidduch
in Chicago, and a letter written in New York could cause
humiliation and embarrassment in London.
Chazal actually compare, the aveiroh of loshon
hora to the cardinal sins of idolatry, immorality and
murder (Erchin 15b; Yerushalmi Peah 1:1).
The Torah admonishes us: "Lo seilech rochil be'amecho -
- Do not go around as a slanderer among your people"
Besides the prohibition against slandering and spreading
loshon hora about our fellow Jew, the Torah also
exhorts us to learn from Miriam about the severity of
defaming someone. The posuk states: "Remember what
Hashem, your G-d did to Miriam on the way, when you were
leaving Egypt" (Devorim 24:9). The Rambam explains
that the Torah is encouraging us to reflect on the details of
Miriam's sin of speaking loshon hora against Moshe.
Miriam was older than Moshe, she had risked her life saving
him when he was an infant, she only sinned by saying that
Moshe was on the same level of prophecy as the other
nevi'im and Moshe himself was not offended by her
words (Hilchos Tumas Tzora'as 16:10). The
Sifrei also adds that she had Moshe's best interests
in mind (Sifrei to Devorim 24:9). Yet despite
all these factors, she was afflicted with tzora'as.
All the more so will those who maliciously speak loshon
hora be punished. Therefore we should avoid their company
to save ourselves from the sin of loshon hora (Rambam,
The Ramban considers this one of the 613 mitzvos. He also
writes that it is a mitzva to declare verbally what happened
to Miriam. The Torah commands us to reflect on this episode
and to repeat it out loud because of the destructiveness of
loshon hora (Commentary to Devorim 24:9;
Hasogos HoRamban to Sefer Hamitzvos LehoRambam,
Additional Mitzvos Mitzva Asei 7).
This does not mean one must remain silent. "Death and life
are in the power of the tongue (Mishlei 18:21)." By
speaking loshon hora one brings death to himself.
On the other hand if one speaks words of Torah, he grants
life to himself. The Chofetz Chaim, who made a career of
guarding his speech from loshon hora and campaigned
his entire life for shemiras haloshon, was talkative
by nature. He actually used this tendency to avoid sinning.
He would talk endlessly to students and visitors about Torah
subjects and mussar. Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzensky
zt'l testified that the Chofetz Chaim always spoke
words of Torah so that there would never be a moment for idle
talk. It is speculation, but perhaps it was due to the
Chofetz Chaim's vigilance with shemiras haloshon and
his constant devotion to learning Torah that he merited to
live well into his nineties.
Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin zt'l writes that this is hinted
at in the posuk, "These are the words that Moshe spoke
(Devorim 1:1 with Oznaim LaTorah). Moshe did
not indulge in idle words. A person's main topic of
conversation should be the Torah and related subjects.
Not only do we ourselves receive life through using the power
of our tongues to toil in Torah and pray before Hashem, we
also grant life and protection to our fellow Jews facing
persecution. We must realize that the battlegrounds in the
current conflict in Eretz Yisroel are not only in
Yerushalayim and Tel Aviv and in Jenin and Nablus. The battle
is being waged from Melbourne to Moscow, from London to
Lakewood, and throughout the world. No matter where a Jew
lives, he can come to the aid of his brethren in Eretz
Dovid Hamelech reminds us: "Eileh vorechev ve'eileh
vasusim, va'anachnu besheim Hashem nazkir. Heimoh kor'u
venofolu, va'anachnu kamnu vanis'odod -- Some come with
chariots and some come with horses, but we call out in the
Name of Hashem. They stumbled and fell but we arose and were
strengthened" (Tehillim 20:8,9). One must not place
his trust in armed forces alone. Our true security also
depends upon those who learn and teach Torah and those who
daven to Hashem. In the merit of Torah and
tefilloh, Hashem will protect us and our army will be
successful in defending us. This is what the Sages teach us
concerning the verse: "Hakol kol Yaakov vehayodayim yedei
Eisov -- The voice is the voice of Yaakov and the hands
are the hands of Eisov" (Bereishis 27:22). When
Yaakov's voice resonates in the synagogues and study halls,
in prayer and learning, then Eisov will have no hands to
raise up against us (Pesikta to Eichah
The Midrash (ibid.) relates that R' Asi and R'
Ami traveled throughout Eretz Yisroel to inspect its
security. When they would enter a city, they would say, "Show
us the guardians of the city." The town's people would then
show them the police and armed guards. R' Ami and R' Asi
would then respond: "Are these the protectors of the city?
These are the destroyers of the city!" If one relies solely
on the armed forces and does not turn to Hashem, he is doomed
The Oznaim LaTorah comments further that Yaakov's
voice was a natural part of him. He learned Torah in his
father's house, in the yeshivos of Shem and Ever, when he was
watching Lovon's sheep and when he returned to Eretz Canaan.
By contrast, his "hands of Eisov" were an artificial,
temporary covering of goatskin so that he could resemble
Eisov when necessary. If we must resort to armed combat to
defend ourselves against our enemies, we must only don
Eisov's gloves on our hands. Our hands themselves and our
hearts must be faithful to Hashem, and the voice of Yaakov,
our heritage must not be weakened (Oznaim LaTorah to
It is incumbent upon each and every Jewish man, woman and
child to enlist in this struggle. We must come armed with our
gemoras and Chumoshim, our siddurim and
Tehillim. We must toil in Torah and storm the Heavens
with our prayers. "Ein lonu elo Ovinu shebaShomayim --
We have no one to rely on but our Father in Heaven."
Nonetheless, Torah and tefilloh are not enough for us
to win this war. Even the members of the most elite army
unit, who have the most advanced and sophisticated weaponry
available, would be vulnerable to attack if they ran out of
ammunition or if their weapons were damaged. Even as we
daven fervently to Hashem and learn His Torah, we must
be vigilant not to engage in any conduct which might prevent
Hashem from hearing our prayers.
Chazal teach that if one speaks loshon hora, his
prayers are not accepted before Hashem. By speaking loshon
hora, one causes spiritual impurity to descend upon him,
which can only be removed by teshuva (Zohar,
Parshas Metzoroh). The Chofetz Chaim adds that we can now
understand the following ma'amar Chazal. The
metzoro must publicly proclaim that he is
tomei, so that the community may pray on his behalf.
The Chofetz Chaim explains that the public must pray for the
metzoro, because his own prayers are unwelcome before
Hashem (Shemiras Haloshon vol. 1,1:7).
Why are the Heavenly gates locked to one who engages in
loshon hora? The Torah describes Hashem's creation of
man: "And He blew into his nostrils the soul of life, and man
became a living being" (Bereishis 2:7). Targum
Onkelos understands this posuk to mean "man became
a talking spirit." Man is distinguished from animals by his
power of speech. Although at first glance one might think
that intellect is the essence of mankind, it is through
speech that human intellect is expounded and disseminated.
Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin writes: "Through speech, and its form
in writing, man's practical and theoretical innovations in
all realms of knowledge are transmitted to his neighbor. And
likewise, each generation passes on the knowledge it
inherited from its predecessors, as well as its own
additions. In the course of many generations, man has
succeeded in working over and refining the new material
created by Hashem, achieving an extraordinary level of
science and technology. Without speech and writing, the
transfer of knowledge would be impossible between
generations, or even between contemporaries and man's
intellect would stagnate and degenerate" (Oznaim LaTorah
to Bereishis 2:7).
When one speaks loshon hora or other forms of
forbidden speech, one is abusing Hashem's gift to mankind.
Instead of using this precious tool to influence others
positively, he causes destruction. In effect, by speaking
loshon hora one is undermining his essence and
demonstrates that he has no appreciation for what
distinguishes him from the animals.
This is true for all of humanity, for Hashem has bestowed
upon all of mankind the power of speech. As Hashem's Holy
Nation, we were elevated and granted the opportunity to learn
the devar Hashem and to pray before Him. This was the
purpose of Creation. Through learning and tefilloh, we
sustain the universe, as Shimon Hatzaddik taught: "On three
things the world stands, on Torah, Avodoh (prayer) and
acts of kindness" (Ovos 1:2).
One who was given an instrument to serve the King would not
defile this tool by using it for a lowly purpose. And surely
he would not use this tool for activities that the King finds
abhorrent. Rather, he would treat it with the utmost care and
respect. This instrument actually identifies him as a servant
of the King and is a badge of honor.
One who speaks loshon hora and uses his tongue against
Hashem's wishes, is belittling the Divine gift and privilege
of speech. Surely, he is most unwelcome to stand before Him
If a person were to bar our entry into the Beis
Hamedrash and beis haknesses, we would consider
this person a rosho. Yet if we engage in loshon
hora, that is exactly what we are doing!
Let us resolve to refrain from loshon hora. In this
way we will sanctify our mouths as holy vessels. In this way
our mourning will also be more meaningful and will be viewed
by Hashem as sincere. Then, let us strengthen our learning
and tefilloh. The pure words will then soar to
Shomayim and we will triumph over our enemies.
May we merit to see the fulfillment of the words of the
Sages: "Kol hamis'aveil al Yerushalayim zocheh uro'eh
besimchosoh -- All who mourn for Yerushalayim will merit
to witness her joy" (Taanis 30b).
May it come speedily, in our days.