Rabbi Yisrael Meir HaCohen of Radin, known as the “ChafetzChaim” (“one who desires life”), went at the beginning of his career from door to door to sell the book he had written on the laws of lashon hara (broadly: undesirable speech). At one place, the housewife opened the door, and when she heard his offer said: “We don’t need a book. In our home no lashon hara is spoken, but try at our neighbors’; I think they really need it.”
“Who is the man who desires life (chafetz chaim), who loves days of seeing good? Guard your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit…” it says in Psalm 34, and it is on the basis of this passuk that the Chafetz Chaim named the comprehensive volume he wrote on the laws of lashon hara, and since then he himself is called by that name, too.
Whoever has experienced being burned by lashon hara, whoever has been hurt from words of gossip and evil speech, will be able to confirm that there is nothing more fitting than the name “Chafetz Chaim,” since evil speech definitely brings about the opposite of life.
Personally, when speaking about lashon hara, I have a very clear rule – check it out and you’ll see it’s true. When someone speaks to you badly about someone, you can be sure that sooner or later he will speak badly about you too to someone. So what should one do? The best thing is to maintain your distance from him, the speaker of evil words.
The Rambam in his commentary on the Mishna in Avot counts five categories of speech: speech connected to a mitzvah, forbidden speech, disgusting speech, beloved speech and permitted speech. It is worthwhile to read what he says, and study it in depth. But here is what he defines as disgusting speech: “The third part is the disgusting speech, in which there is no advantage for a person in his soul… like most of the stories of the masses, about what happened and what was, and what are the customs of King so-and-so in his palace and what caused the death of so-and-so, or how so-and-so got rich…”
On erev Shabbos of Tazria-Metzora, the parashas that deal with tzara’at, which comes as a punishment of and a reminder of the severity of lashon hara, I remind myself once again that if I desire life, there is a simple way to achieve it, and that is to guard my tongue from evil, and my lips from speaking deceit.
Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski