The greater heat that surrounds us is not the prolonged hot weather of the region, in which temperatures approaching and passing 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and months without precipitation, are the norm, but the incalesence rising from within us. Too often, we toss about fiery words without regard for the harms such flaming might cause to ourselves or to others.
Even during this inauspicious period of the Three Weeks, and even during this historically further ill-fated span of the Nine Days, we continue to heedlessly kindle interpersonal fights and to set light to many ill-advised fancies. In brief, we seethe, we sear, we scorch, and we scold with our mouths. We ignite without heed of boundaries or of consequences.
Such persistent engagement in loshon hara might derive from our not bothering with mindfulness, from our feeling insecure, from our placing other people’s opinions of us above The Almighty demands on us, and from our making too little of an effort, too late, to morph problematic middot into good ones. Yet understanding, i.e. minimalizing, denying, or rationalizing, “causes” for our behavior hardly excuses it. Melting, roasting, incinerating or otherwise turning others’ as well as our own, neshemot to ash, continues to be inexcusable.
For starts, it’s insufficient to claim that we want our actions to be Kiddush Hashem. In A Guide to Derech Eretz, Rabbi S. Wagschal writes that “one who behaves in an exemplary manner sanctifies the name of Hashem.” The opposite holds true, too. We sincerely assert that we don’t want to hurt other people, but five minutes after making such statements, we have no remorse when pointing to the lad who dresses differently from his parents, to the girl who committed to one type of sherut leumi or army service instead of to another, or to the elder who davens a little faster or a little slower than we do. Loshon hara is about truths, not fabrications. We create problems by citing veracities, not by spinning fictions.
Additionally, we do not always strive to be altruistic. Too often, it seems, we attack other folks to mask our insecurities. This poor social prestidigitation buries us, our subjects, and our listeners. Whereas we could use Torah “as a crown for glory [, instead we use it as] a shovel with which to dig” (Pirkei Avos, Perek 4.7) Just as Korach got into awful trouble for his imagined grandeur, so, too, do we when we insist, directly or implicitly, that we be regarded with high repute and that, concurrently, our neighbors, teachers, students, parents, children, friends, colleagues, and the like, be regarded with lesser esteem.
What’s more, we allow ourselves to be entangled in the threads of what we believe others think about us instead of fearing Hashem. When confronted with this truth, we disown it or whine. Consider, in illustration, the following mashal from Chofetz Chiam, in Give us Life;
Several domesticated critters ran in through the gate surrounding a family’s home and garden. Before being herded away, the goats, among all of the animals, ate up many of the family’s greens. The family vowed to each other to keep their gate shut in order to prevent further damage.
Nonetheless, as time passed, the family forgot its vow to guard the entrance to all that they held precious. Pigs ran in, dug up the roots of the surviving plants in the family’s garden and gobbled them down.
The members of the family no longer trusted each other to keep their vital portal closed. The father walled off their lone entrance.
Thereafter, to enter and leave their homestead, the family had to climb over the wall. The mother and children complained that such effort was both arduous and degrading. Not unkindly, the father answered that is was better to suffer from difficulty and humiliation than to die of starvation.
Similarly, it is better for us to loose social standing and to experience hardships that to be denuded of all of the goodness we can glean in this world. In the World to Come, there will be no such opportunities to nourish our souls, no new gardens of opportunities to adorn our neshemot.
Finally, we posit that we ought not to bother guarding our mouths because it’s too late and we’re too far gone for any chance at bettering our spiritual wellbeing. Interestingly not only have we no right to judge ourselves and no right to judge ourselves so harshly, but it is also the case that it remains essential for us to make teshuva, especially in this most important area of our lives.
Another mashal, also by Chofetz Chiam, also from his book Give us Life explains;
A bricklayer customarily took his lunch break at a beach near his worksite. One day, while walking on the sand, he discovered that a myriad pearls had washed up. Yet, he did not bother to collect those precious bits, justifying his behavior with the semi-plausible account that since he had only half of an hour left of discretionary time with which to scoop of some of that treasure, his take, relative to the whole, would be paltry.
Even with “half of a lunch hour” left, we need to make the most of the assets available to us. We need to go back over our actions and to correct, while we are of this world, any that seem less than commendable. Our way with words, first and foremost, needs to be amended.
Our inability to keep our moths shut is the worst of human-fashioned ovens. Gehinnom is nothing relative to the way in which we currently are killing ourselves. Our not-too-covert mention that a dear one’s koshrut might be one off, that a superior probably cheated on taxes, that a cousin drives too close to other cars or drives too far away from them, and those grumbles we articulate, “just between us guys (or us girls),” about this municipal clerk or about that doctor, create a worse condition for us than does any other form of human degradation or cosmic comeuppance.
We need keep roasting in this infamy. We need not heat up additional communication complacency. Solutions to our problem of loshon hara are not: beyond us, explicable, less worthy of our attention than social status, or insurmountable.
It’s hot outside. However, it’s sweltering within.