Bite Your Tongue?

There are many important laws which are taught in Parshat Kedoshim including honoring your parents, observing Shabbat, paying workers wages on time and not cursing a deaf person. However, the mitzvah that most stands out in my mind is (Vayikra 19:16): “Do not be a talebearer (lo telech racheel) among your people, you shall not stand aside while your fellow’s blood is shed- I am your God”.


The Rambam (Maimonides) Hilchot Deot 7:2 asks: “Who is racheel (a talebearer)? One who carries gossip, going about from person to person and saying: ‘So and so said this; this is what I heard about so and so.’ Even though they tell the truth they are ruining the world. There is a still worse sin that comes with this prohibition namely Lashon HaRa, someone who is saying bad things about their fellow even if they tell the truth. But someone who lies is called a slanderer. A master of Lashon HaRa says: ‘this is what so and so did, such were his fathers, this is what I have heard about them…”


William Blake (1757-1827) once said: “A truth that’s told with bad intent beats all the lies you can invent”.


Rashi comments on the words “lo telech racheel”: It is my opinion that this law is due to all of the inciters of quarrels, and those that relate Lashon HaRa, who go into the houses of their friends to spy out what they can see of evil, or what they can hear of evil in order to tell it in the market place. Consequently they are called holchei rachil (those who go out spying). The term “rochel” denotes one who goes around and searches for every kind of ware (a peddler). We never find tale bearing written in the Torah without the word “going” as well. However, considering other types of Lashon HaRa going is not written.


Rabbi Avraham Zevi Hirsch Eisenstadt (1813-1868) author of the Pitchei Tshuva explains that sometimes it is necessary to speak up on behalf of the needy to save the exploited from the exploiter. For example, if one saw a person cunningly ambushing their fellow on the road in the desert with the intention of killing them, or saw a thief in the night in their house or in their shop, is it possible that they would refrain from informing their friend to beware of the exploiter because of the prohibition of Lashon haRa? Is not a greater sin to break the command “…you shall not stand aside while your fellow’s blood is shed- I am your God”?


We learn from here that the laws of rechilut and Lashon HaRa are not always clear cut and we have to use our judgment before we speak. As it says in Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) 3:7 “There is a time to be silent and a time to speak”.