Parashat Mesora: Correcting the Sin of Lashon Ha’ra
Parashiyot Tazria and Mesora speak at length about the subject of Sara’at, the skin infection that would be suffered by those guilty of the sin of Lashon Ha’ra – negative speech about other people. A person who was determined to have Sara’at would be forced to live outside his city until he was cured, at which point a special ceremony was required for him to be permitted to reenter his city and resume his life. All this was the result of the grievous sin of Lashon Ha’ra, which is looked upon by the Torah as one of the most severe offenses a person can commit.
There is a very close connection between the subject of Lashon Ha’ra and the upcoming holiday of Pesah, when we celebrate the Exodus from Egypt. Essentially, the story of the Egyptian exile began with a tragic instance of Lashon Ha’ra. Yosef, as we read in Sefer Bereshit, brought negative reports about his brothers to Yaakob. This naturally aroused their hostility and resentment, which eventually led them to sell him as a slave to Egypt. The result was the relocation of Yaakob and his entire family in Egypt, setting the stage for Beneh Yisrael’s bitter slavery and persecution at the hands of the Egyptians. And thus the 210 years of suffering all came about as a result of Lashon Ha’ra.
The Haggada alludes to this fact when it says, "Va’yered Misrayma – Annus Al Pi Ha’dibbur." The plain meaning of this phrase is that Yaakob and his family moved from Eretz Yisrael to Egypt by force of Divine decree; this process was ordained by G-d in order to carry out the decree of exile. But on a deeper level, this means that the exile occurred "Al Pi Ha’dibbur," because of the misuse of speech. It was negative speech about brothers that triggered the process of the Egyptian bondage.
We correct this sin at the Seder on Pesah night, by sitting around the table and speaking at length and in depth about G-d’s miracles in Egypt and the broader themes of faith and providence. In order to rectify the sin of negative speech, we indulge in positive speech. We show how speech can be used for lofty, sacred purposes, thereby reversing the Lashon Ha’ra – the desecration of speech – which caused the Egyptian exile.
The Torah teaches in Sefer Bamidbar (30:3), "Lo Yahel Debaro Ke’chol Ha’yoseh Mi’piv Ya’aseh" – "He shall not violate his word; he shall do in accordance with everything that comes from his mouth." On the level of simple interpretation, this means that one who takes a pledge must ensure not to violate his word by failing to fulfill the pledge. However, Rabbi Levi Yishak of Berditchev (1740-1809) explained this verse to mean that if a person does not profane his speech, and he ensures to use his faculty of speech for only positive and constructive purposes, then Hashem will fulfill "everything that comes from his mouth" – meaning, He will answer his prayers. Often our prayers go unanswered because the same mouth which uttered the prayers was contaminated through the utterance of Lashon Ha’ra. By guarding our mouths against improper speech about other people, and ensuring to use our mouths only for the right purposes, we help guarantee that our prayers will achieve their goal and receive a favorable response from G-d.