Friday, April 28, 2006
Today’s Table Talk theme is speech.
Speech is central to the human experience and to the Torah. The six days of creation are accomplished via Divine speech. Adam and Eve’s speech is what sets them apart and what gets them into trouble. Similarly Moses, who had a speech impediment and whose untoward words brought his own demise. Some Biblical characters are unusually quiet, such as Noah and Isaac.
One type of speech is particularly destructive: lashon hara - negative talk about others. The simplest definition of lashon hara is anything that might embarrass the person you are talking about. Judaism considers it extremely destructive to speak about other people this way, even if you’re joking. It follows that we shouldn’t ask people questions that might lead them to speak lashon hara inadvertently. In the end, three people get hurt: the speaker, the listener and the subject.
Here are some examples – try reading these at your dinner table and ask the others if they think these are lashon hara or not.
“You should have seen the ridiculous thing that Al did at the office today.”
“You know, my 8-year-old Joey still wets his pants.”
“Hey there, Bill. How’s my favorite niece doing in school these days?”
“Don’t mind my husband, he always makes dumb jokes.”
“Sorry we’re late, Brian lost his wallet and it was in his pocket the entire time!”
“Did you hear that the Smiths are getting a divorce? I hear that they had a real nasty fight.”
“Gosh, don’t shop there – it’s a rip-off. Shop over here.”
“I’m thinking of hiring Irene to work for me. Can you tell me about her work habits when she worked for you?”
One of the above statements is “kosher” - can you guess which one?
(after you guess, scroll down to see the answer)
The answer is: the last one. When lashon hara is sought or related for a constructive purpose, it is OK, as long as the speaker only relates what they know first-hand.
A question to ask at your table: Did you hear someone speaking lashon hara this week (don't tell me who!)? What could you have done do to avoid hearing it?
PS - this film is so well done and disturbing I feel everyone should view it: Pallywood