(As explained in Day 31, this segment is based on Sefer Shemiras HaLashon, Shaar HaZechirah ch. 7)
The story is told of a Jew who committed many sins in his life. When he passed away and stood before the Heavenly Court, matters did not look good for him. Then an angel came to testify how on a cold, snowy winter night, this man had gone out of his way to help a traveler get his wagon out of a ditch. This great mitzvah made the weight of good deeds almost evenly balanced with the weight of sins on the Heavenly scale. Then an angel brought forward all the mud this man had waded through as he struggled to extricate the wagon from the ditch. The mud tipped the scale to the side of merit and the man was granted entrance to Gan Eden.
Then there is another type of mud, the ruach hatumah (spirit of impurity) created by lashon hara. This “mud” cannot be seen by the human eye, but it is there nonetheless — and the damage it can cause is far-reaching.
Imagine a pair of students sitting together studying Gemara for four consecutive hours. They feel uplifted and channel their spiritual energy into the tefillah that follows. “I think this is the best Minchah I’ve ever davened,” one tells himself. Both leave the beis midrash very accomplished. Or so they think.
There is something that they have forgotten. That morning while eating breakfast together, an old classmate’s name came up. This classmate did not get along well with these two fellows, for a variety of reasons. Over breakfast, all his faults were recalled and the two friends shared new stories they had heard about him since the day he had left their yeshivah.
This discussion — all of it lashon hara — lasted fifteen minutes. When they entered the beis midrash a few minutes later with the goal of accomplishing a lot in the next four hours, it appeared that this would be a day of great spiritual accomplishment. But their eyes could not see the powerful ruach hatumah that their words had created. This ruach hatumah enveloped the words of Torah and tefillah that their mouths uttered, weakening their power and depleting the reward that they could have achieved.
The Chofetz Chaim informs us that the damaging effects of forbidden speech is discussed in the Talmud.
The world is sustained only in the merit of the breath [of Torah] study of school children.
Said Rav Papa to Abaye: “And what of our Torah study?”
Abaye replied, “There is no comparison between breath that is tainted by sin and breath that is untainted by sin.”
What did Abaye mean when he said that the breath of the great Sages of the Talmud was “tainted by sin”? Surely this could only mean a few minor, unintentional words that might not even be considered sinful by our standards. Yet, Abaye was convinced that even such words could damage the power of one’s Torah learning. The kind of conversation we described above can certainly have a devastating effect on the power of one’s learning and prayer.
Let’s do our best to avoid lashon hara. There is too much at stake.
IN A NUTSHELL
Words of lashon hara can have a devastating effect on the power of our Torah study and tefillah.
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