Last year, I read an account of a New World home infested horribly with snakes; it was filled with of hundreds of them. The more that the home’s owners tore their walls apart, the more snakes they found. Bad became worse. The family filed for bankruptcy. Their bank foreclosed on their house.
Interestingly, the locals had long regarded that building as plague-ridden. Yet those others had said nothing to their new neighbors when those unfortunate folks were considering purchasing that house and said nothing to them thereafter.
Loshon Hora is a similar predicament of being overrun by pests. It is hidden, and, when uncovered, it most often proves extensive. As well, many people, who are aware of this problem in themselves, or in others, say nothing about its existence or about its worsening state.
Not surprisingly, the result of our collective disregard of this trouble, like the result of our collective, occasional exposing of it to the light, does nothing to prevent our going into spiritual bankruptcy. Likewise, our communal lack of response to this infestation of the soul creates a situation in which The Great Bank eventually forecloses on us.
Consider the goings on in Parsha Shelach, in which ten of our twelve spies spoke against the Holy Land, and against following Hashem’s command, and the goings on in Parsha Korach, in which a book smart, but otherwise dim, person chose to stand with the yetza hara, to situate himself beyond the rules and to bring down, literally, a significant portion of our people.
In the former case, not only did we rebel against Eretz Yisrael by saying Mitzriyim was the land of milk and honey, but we rebelled against Moshe, Ha Kodesh Baruch Hu’s chosen representative, too. In the latter case, not only did we nay-say the established social order, but we joined in a growing insurgence without giving heed to the reasoning behind it or to the near-future consequences of our actions. Korach’s sons did not descend very far and they “reemerged” from Gehinnom to this world, sometimes later, because they were mutinous, but mindful.
We are taught, accordingly, that Hashem forgives our sins against Him more easily than He forgives our sins against other Jews. We have the red heifer to redeem us from the eggel hazahav, the golden calf, and we have the slow reflourishing of the physical property of the modern State of Israel to amend our ill-regard of the same.
Yet, when it comes to bad will among humans, bein adam l’chaveiro, such absolution comes less readily. It’s bad to speak against Hashem. It’s worse to speak against Hashem’s creations. The Boss has infinite understanding and knows that he does. We lack such a great quantity of kindness or benevolence. Subsequently, The Boss holds us more accountable for hurting each other.
As sited in Kol Kisvei Chofetz Chaim, Vol III, Rav. Avraham Pam’s mashal explains that in the time of the Czarist government, Jews refused to slander each other fearing such words would bring death and that we ought to operate in our informal systems of society similarly; “when one slanders a fellow Jew, he in effect becomes an informer; because as long as no one mentions other people’s faults, Hashem, in His mercy, tends to delay punishing the guilty. Once a person calls attention to the faults of his neighbor, however, Hashem acts swiftly to punish the guilty party” as well as the one who spoke poorly of the guilty.
Listening to or following calumny or listening to or following true, but disparaging remarks, too, in the least hurts us and, at worst, kills us. Evidence the punishments mentioned above, which we suffered when acting thus.
Rav. Wagschal writes in A Guide to Derech Eretz, that “a human being is held responsible for the damages he cause[s], even inadvertently.” What’s more, Rav. Wagschal points out, that in Ketubos 5b, of Gemara, mention is made of why the lobes of our ears are soft; “one hears something improper, he should be able to fold the lobe into the ear and block out the sound.”
We know, instinctively, and cognitively that foul speech about Jews, about Hashem, and about Eretz Israel is wrong and that such rhetoric whether created, participated in, passively, or focused on us is a nest of quickly multiplying snakes. The likes of which ought not to be ignored, minimalized, or kept hidden.