3 Weeks and 9 Av: Heard at the Lashon Hara Conference

Nov 17, 2014

Reflections on the 5760 “Torah World’s Lashon Hara Conference”

by Rabbi Eliezer Kwass

May 4, 2000 – 29 Nisan, 5760

There was a feeling this Wednesday night at the Ramat Tamir Hotel that this was not just another conference on Lashon Hara.  The inside of the hall was packed (during Bein Hazmanim) and there were another hundred or so (mostly youth) watching and listening outside on a giant screen.  A cross section of much of the Torah world was represented (the energetic organizers had approached a large list of the leaders of the Torah community, who either came or sent letters of support), both among the speakers and the listeners from school age children to elderly men, Yeshivish, Chassidish and Sfardi bnei Torah.  But besides the numbers and the feeling of togetherness, there was a sense in the air that a small-scale revolution was taking place, openly putting interpersonal relationships (represented by lashon hara) at the top of a community’s priority scale.

Short quotes from the conference:

Learning Chafetz Chaim B’iyun
“This conference must bring about practical results . . . People must start learning the Chafetz Chaim in depth the same way they learn Ketzos or Rabbi Akiva Eiger or the Mishneh Berura. . . . What happens now?  If someone in yeshiva starts learning Chafetz Chaim they look at him strangely, like he’s some kind of a “frummer” or a “tzaddik.”  You see, the gedolei hador (great sages of the generation) are unanimously saying, “Learn the Chafetz Chaim, in depth and regularly.” There’s no need to be embarassed about it. . . . ” (Conference Organizer)

“You wouldn’t believe how powerful a smile can be.  A new boy enters yeshiva — ask him how he’s doing, how’s his room, how his chavrusas are going.  It can change everything.” (Conference Organizer)

Starting a Project
“I once was involved in starting a project and came to Rav Shach shlita (he should be well) for advice.  He encouraged me.  Do you know how Rav Yisrael [Salanter] started the Mussar Movement?  He finally found someone in a little town, Memel, to rent him two rooms.  Then he started with a chavrusa, then a chabura, then he went to Kovno, and then it spread to the whole world.  Imagine what it will be like when that fellow who rented Rav Yisrael the room goes to Heaven . . . . One person can turn a yeshiva around. . . .” (Ra’m at Yeshivas Kol Torah)

Constant Consciousness
“One must always have before his eyes David’s words, “Watch your tongue from evil and your lips from trickery.  Stray away from bad and do good, seek out peace and chase after it.”  (quoted from Rav Yonasan Sofer, shlita, the Rosh Yeshiva of Erloi)

Speak, but with Borders
“No one says not to speak.  On the contrary, speak about all topics — but with borders.”  (Harav Moshe Halberstam, shlita, Dayan of the Eidah Chareidis)

Humility and Torah
“The gemara in Erkhin says that the remedy for lashon hara involves two things:  humility and increasing Torah study.  Much lashon hara involves arrogance, so humility is an appropriate antidote; and Torah is a positive use of speech.  These might be hinted to in the prayer we add to the end of the Shemoneh Esrei every day.  After Sim Shalom we say, “G-d, protect our tongue from evil. . . “. Then we pray for the cure, “May I be as the dirt to all (humility) and open up my heart to your Torah (increased Torah study).” (Harav Moshe Halberstam, shlita, Dayan of the Eidah Chareidis)

Real Love and Respect
“The key to avoiding lashon hara is cultivating real love and respect between us. .  .  . Why focus on another’s shortcomings?  Note his unique positive characteristics and focus on them.”  (The Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva)

Control over the Mouth
“Lashon hara is called “le’ekhol kurtza” in Aramaic.  Eben Ezra in Daniel translates this as “to eat another’s flesh”! Perhaps this is why the punishment for lashon hara is tzara’at, the plague about which it is said, “His flesh was eaten.”  Rashi (in Vayikra 19) translates this as “to eat a winking meal,” because the way of gossips is to sit together at a meal and talk about others, using gestures like winking.  Rashi, whose every word is so carefully chosen, uses a strange expression for eating, “hal’ata.”  This expression is only used in the Tanach with reference to Eisav and in Mishnaic Hebrew refers to force feeding animals.  Perhaps Rashi is trying to tell us that the gossip has no control over his mouth.  Perhaps this is why the oral Torah is called Torah Shebaal Peh, it is the Torah of those who control their mouths.” (The Gerrer Rosh Yeshiva)

“I was told by a certain Rosh Yeshiva that a number of problems plagued his yeshiva and no easy solutions presented themselves.  Then they began serious study of the laws of lashon hara and the problems naturally fell away.” (Conference Organizer)


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