Shmirat haLoshon - Why Rechilus (Gossip Peddling) is False Advertising

            This post is dedicated in merit that Hershel ben Etya Sarah have a yeshuah.

Elisheva Maline

During the month of Elul (end of August, beginning of September) our father in Heaven is, like a king who leaves the palace to hang out in the field with the peasants, open for business. At this point, the Jewish people are taking time for prayer and introspection. In general, one's personal aim should be reaching the plateau of consciousness where, "I am aware that He [G-d] is aware." G-d permeates every nook and cranny of the world. One's being aware of that allows for a wealth of emotions that range from awe and trepidation to love and exhilaration. In short, one way or another, we become closer to G-d. 

By doing teshuva -- the correcting of actions which had created distance between man and G-d -- we harness a certain closeness with our Creator during the days leading up to Rosh Hashana (the new year). One way to do teshuvah is through our words. We speak them all the time. Sometimes we become ensnared by conversations we never intended to take part in. For instance, getting caught in a back and forth with the gossip peddler. The Chofetz Chaim takes the verse, "Do not go as a peddler of gossip among your people" from the book of Leviticus, naming rechilus, gossip peddling, the primary sin in the topic of loshon hara (evil speech). He explains that a gossip peddler is someone who goes around collecting negative bits of information (i.e. information that will have negative ramifications) from different people. After collecting these bits and pieces, the peddler returns to the subjects of the gossip with lots of juicy information. The following scenario demonstrates what rechilus is: Tom approaches Dick and says, " Do you know what Harry said about you?" "No, what did he say?" Dick replies. Tom answers, "He thinks your breath stinks!" 

Usually, people operate on the misguided theory that it is good and helpful to report any negative comments that were made behind their backs." The Chofez Chaim emphasizes that nothing positive results from these exchanges. Unless the information pertains to a physical, financial or emotional loss, the peddler is hauling around nothing more than unnecessary information. If the subject of the hurtful comments accepts what he hears he may pay with the heavy price of losing a friend or co-worker. It's unfortunate for both the talker and the subject. After all, someone said something harmless, albeit hurtful, on a whim and the information happened to reach him. Yes, most people want to be in the know when it comes to others talking behind their backs. In the end, though, the reporting "friend" is doing nothing more than peddling animosity. His merchandise seems useful at first but, with time, it becomes recognized as old junk. 

Picture Fiddler on the Roof complete with a mid 19th century setting. A hunched over old lady creeps along the street, lugging a huge cart of dusty goods. "For sale, for sale! From the city of (insert European city). Miracle cures! Hair cream for bald people! Potions that keep the wrinkles away." She winks and hollers, "For sale, for sale!" in a voice like a rusty tin. The locals of Anatevka (theoretically) are too gullible to recognize the charlatan and some even approach the cart for a closer look. The items look intriguing. One client hesitates, asks a question and, reassured, buys. Before anyone can say, "Farce," the cart is empty and the crone wanders, cackling and counting her coins, into the twilight. 

If you find yourself getting into a similar tight spot, or if you catch the old lady peddling her wares in your direction, make a beeline for the nearest exit. With the shearing off of certain unwanted topics, you will enjoy freed up space for cleaving to G-d. Prayer without rechilus is much more accessible to G-d.

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