We are going to take a look at the concept of Lashon Hara (evil tongue) a little deeper. Keep in mind, this is going to be associated with Zara’at (leprosy) and the Metzora (the one with Zara’at). Lev 19.16 says that we are not to “go about as a talebearer among your people.” Death and life are in the power of the tongue (Prov 18.21) and when a person speaks or listens to lashon hara, thirty-one commandments may be violated. Even though one does not generally violate them all at once, it is important to remember how carelessness can lead one into deeper trouble. Besides lashon hara, there is another concept called “Rechilut” (gossip) which is any communication that generates animosity between people.
Rechilut is often done when repeating lashon hara. For example, John tells Sam that Steve is ugly (John spoke lashon hara), and then Sam tells Steve what John said about him. Sam probably made Steve angry with John, which rechilut.
The Torah does give different situations and conditions, and identifies when speech is forbidden, permisable, and even desirable. One type of lashon hara, speaking lies and slander is called “Motzi Shem Ra” (spreading a bad name). It’s very easy to imagine how lies, and even exaggeration, can unfairly damage someone’s reputation. However, sometimes we speak lashon hara because we forget that in many cases, truth can be subjective (like beauty is in the eye of the beholder) or elusive, in that we don’t always know thew whole picture. We never know the circumstances he has had to deal with. Lev 19.15 says, “In righteousness shall you judge your kinsmen.”
That verse commands us to give the benefit of the doubt. We should always judge other people fairly, believing that there may have been factors that we are not aware. Don’t judge other people unless you find yourself in their situation. As we judge others, you will also be judged. In other words, we should think before we speak and judge. We should try to judge on the side of virtue.
We are going to give some negative commandments found in the Torah relating to Lashon Hara. These include, “You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people” (Lev 19.16; “You shall not utter a false report” (Exo 23.1); “Take heed concerning the plague of Zara’at (leprosy)” (Deut 24.8); “Before the blind do not put a stumbling block” (Lev 19.14); “You shall not profane my holy name” (Lev 22.32); “You shall not hate your brother in your heart” (Lev 19.12); “You shall not take vengeance nor bear any grudge against the children of your people” (Lev 19.18); “One witness shall not rise up against a man for iniquity or for any sin” (Deut 19.15); “You shall not follow a multitude to do evil” (Exo 23.2); “You shall not act similar to Korah and his company” (Num 17.5); “You shall not wrong one another” (Lev 25.17); “You shall rebuke your brother and you shall not bear sin because of him (Lev 19.17); “Any widow or orphan you shall not afflict” (Exo 22.21); “You shall not curse the deaf” (Lev 19.14).
Next we are going to give some of the positive commandments relating to Lashon Hara. They include, “Remember what Yehovah your Elohim did to Miriam by the way as you came forth from Egypt” (Deut 24.9); “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19.18); “In righteousness shall you judge your neighbor” (Lev 19.15); “If your neighbor be poor and his means fail him when he is with you, then you shall uphold him” Lev 25.35); “You shall rebuke your neighbor” (Lev 19.17); “Before the gray-haired you shall rise up, and you shall honor the face of the old man” (Lev 19.32); “Honor your father and your mother” (Lev 20.12); “From a false matter you shall keep yourself far” (Exo 23.7). In other words, we are to guard our tongue.
What people try to do to another will come upon them, the slanderer themselves. This is called “Middah K’neged Middah” or “Measure for Measure.” There are many instances in Scripture where this happened. For example, Miriam spoke against the wife of her brother Moses in Num 12.1-16 and she was struck with zara’at. The hand of Moses turned white with zara’at after being placed next to his heart in Exo 4.6-7. This showed the evil in man’s heart, and Moses did speak evil against the people and he doubted them. King Uzziah spoke against the lord and offered incense in the Heichal of the Temple when he was not allowed to do that.
The application is this: we all are guilty of this sin. We gossip and slander against someone almost daily. We insult and do harm to others. We think we have the right to walk right into the Temple and before the Throne of God. Like King Uzziah, we offer “incense” and try to “blow a little smoke” of our own against a brother, and facts don’t matter. The one with lashon hara must bear before everyone else what they tried to do to someone else. Let’s go a little deeper.
Peter, and the Jews in general, were instructed in Acts 10 “not to call any man unclean” just because they were non-Jews. That was lashon hara, but this goes for anyone. When we do it, it is like putting the rules of zara’at (leprosy) on someone. Zara’at never really kills you, you have to live with it and it is like slander. You are depressed, isolated, can’t go out in public, and the person feels of no value to anyone. It is a living death and a person is devalued. The person feels like a metzora (leper). They struggle to find self-worth. The Lord told Abraham in Gen 12.1-3, “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you.” Do we want life and goodness? Proper speech is part of that (Psa 34.12-14). Exo 23.1 tells us that listening to gossip makes us just as guilty as the gossiper. Why are our fingers shaped like pegs, and wider at the bottom and more slender at the top? So that when we hear something evil against someone, we can plug up our ears!
There are many reasons why the Second Temple was destroyed and the Jewish people were cast out of the land, and we know they relate to Yeshua. However, the Jewish people and the rabbis asked that question and we can learn the answer in these verses on zara’t and the metzora. Lev 14.33-45 tells us that a leprous house (one with zara’at) is to be torn down. The answer the rabbis came up with as to why the Temple was destroyed and the people scattered was because “We hated without a cause.” They don’t say who they hated exactly, but they know the reason. There is a tradition that says it was because Ya’akov Ha Tzaddik was killed. Don’t know who he was? He is known in Christianity as “James the Just” and the brother of Yeshua (Talmud, Yoma 9b).
The instruction about Lashon Hara is very clear, ‘Don’t do it.” If we are ostracizing someone, or casting insults, or hating a brother, we must “Stop.” Don’t put zara’at on someone, or it will come back on us. The Lord knows how it feels to be seen as “unclean” by others. He has the power to make you clean and take the “zara’at” of of us. Don’t go before the Lord “unclean” or you could get zara’at. Worshipers went to be ritually washed before entering the Temple. When a Metzora purified himself, he would bring two birds. One was offered and the other was set free (Lev 14.7). Why are birds used? Could it be because of their constant “chirping?” It is our constant chirping (chatter) that gets us into trouble.
Why are there two birds? In order to speak evil you need a partner. When we encounter gossip, we should “fly away” or what happened to the first bird will come upon us. To say, “I was only listening” is not an excuse. The listener is just as guilty. That is why the ear of the metzora is anointed with oil and blood (Lev 14.14-17). When we come into the presence of the Lord we should ask ourselves “Have we been involved in lashon hara today?”
These concepts also challenge us to go out and see these people, examine them and understand their lives instead of believing what other people say about them. Look for some way to guide them through the process of being dismissed and to try and ease them back into fellowship with others again. Like the kohanim, we are to be people of peace, love, mercy and compassion. We are not to turn away in fear from such people. We are not to “wash our hands” of any sense of responsibility. People will speak against you, ostracize you, “cut you off” from themselves, treat you as though you were leprous, but don’t get caught up in that. If they don’t repent, what they tried to do to you will come upon their own heads, measure for measure. Just be willing and ready to fellowship with them again after the Lord deals with them, but don’t respond with evil against them, but “fly away” like the second bird (Lev 14.17).
There are “bad times” when danger to the community happens and it requires banishment or being isolated, but we should be open to the grief that accompanies such an event. The “metzorim” or “lepers” today can be prisoners, refugees, immigrants, the poor, disabled, sick, elderly or people with divorces or who have had abortions. They can also be those who have committed a “sin or transgression” that our congregation frowns upon (dancing, drinking, wearing too much make-up, long hair, tatoos or whatever). People with zara’at were not put into “leper colonies” because what we call “leprosy” today is not what we see in the Scriptures. Biblical zara’at is totally different. The metzora lived among everyone else. As a kingdom of priests, we should not harden our hearts and turn away. We should look some painful and ugly realities in the face and help. We should repent of our own sins and imperfections so that we can treat and support those who have been “afflicted” so that they can rejoin us in fellowship again.
In Part 15 we will pick up here.