Simple Arithmetic

Simple Arithmetic

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  • January 28, 2019

Preface: Positive Commandments

The study of Torah is the greatest mitzvah of all. A Jew is commanded to study Torah whenever possible. This is why, say Tosafos, we recite Bircas HaTorah only once a day, as opposed to the blessing when eating in a succah, which we recite each time we leave the succah and return later to eat again. A Jew never really “finishes” learning, because as soon as he is free to learn, he has a mitzvah to open a sefer and resume learning.

Of course, this does not mean that we cannot live a normal life. A person needs to eat, sleep, provide for his family — and, yes, he also needs to “unwind,” to relax, to exercise, to “recharge his batteries.” As long as activities lead to the goal of allowing him to study Torah and serve Hashem with a healthy body and clear mind, they are in the category of a mitzvah; they are certainly not considered bitul Torah (time wasted from learning).

However, when a person speaks lashon hara, then aside from the sin of negative speech, the person has also wasted precious time that could have been used for Torah study. The Vilna Gaon taught that every word of Torah is a mitzvah in itself. In a couple of minutes, a person can accumulate hundreds of mitz­vos of Torah learning. By contrast, when a person speaks lashon hara, each negative comment is a sin in itself.

In Pirkei Avos, we are taught that when a person leaves this world, he must stand before Hashem for a “din v’cheshbon” – judgment and accounting. The Vilna Gaon explains that din is the reckoning for the sin itself, while cheshbon is a reckoning for the good that could have been accomplished during the time that the sin was committed. The cheshbon for which a baal lashon hara will be held accountable is frightening.

As the Chofetz Chaim has demonstrated, the harm that one brings to himself by speaking or listening to lashon hara is awesome. A wise, G-d­fearing person should want to stay far away from any group or situation that might lead to such talk.

The Gemara relates that on his deathbed Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai told his talmidim, “May it be the will of Hashem that the fear of Heaven be upon you like the fear of flesh and blood.”

“That’s all?” his talmidim responded. Can it be that we are to fear Hashem only as much as we fear people?

Rabban Yochanan responded, “If only you would fear Hashem that much. For isn’t it true that when a person is about to sin, he says to himself, ‘I hope that no one sees me.’”

Someone who is careless with his words, ignoring the fact that the Torah explicitly forbids us to speak lashon hara, has transgressed the mitzvah of “You shall fear Hashem, your G-d.”

As the Vilna Gaon wrote in his famous letter to his family, “ … For everything one will stand judgment, for every word; not one casual remark will be lost … Why should it be necessary for me to write at length about this most severe of sins … Heavenly angels accompany a person wherever he goes, and not a single word is lost and not recorded … ”

When one speaks lashon hara, he wastes time that could have been used for Torah study, and he shows a lack of fear of Hashem.

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