Lashon Hara

Ugh. We have all been feeling slightly under the weather–not really bad, but not particularly well either. I haven’t felt very motivated.

I’ve heard that Europe has been having a hard winter this year, with a lot of snowstorms. We have had just the opposite in the USA. We have had very warm temperatures with just a little snow. It is only February and I’ve noticed buds on our lilac bush. It’s been a year without winter. Crazy.

One of the things I’ve learned about as I’ve studied Hebrew is “lashon hara,” which means “speaking evil.” I could understand not speaking evil about others, but lashon hara means not speaking evil of others even if it’s true.

I have struggled to understand what lashon hara means in a practical sense, since it seemed to me that there are times to speak out against wrong, to correct an error, to warn against false teachers. If we never can speak evil of anyone even if true then how can we ever correct, rebuke, or warn? How can we comfort and be comforted by others when we struggle with difficult people? And what of the Prophets, who often spoke against those who did evil? Or Jesus who told some of the pharisees that they were hypocrites and of their father, the devil? Or Paul, who said in Titus 1:12-13:

One of them, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, and idle gluttons.” This testimony is true.

My friend has a close friend who is an Israeli scholar, and she said her Israeli friend never has a problem with the opposite truths of “on the one hand” and “on the other hand.” It’s like “OF COURSE this one truth is true and so is the other”; OF COURSE there is a time to be silent and a time to speak; OF COURSE we need to “not speak evil of others, even if it’s true” but we also need to correct, rebuke, and warn against evil. In speaking of one aspect, it seems as if they deeply know that the other is also true.

Perhaps my struggle with this betrays my Western/Greek mind, but I have struggled with it. When do I speak? When do I be silent? When is something helpful and when does it cross into lashon hara? I asked God a couple of years ago to teach me the answer to this. I still struggle with this some, but I am understanding it more, and becoming more sensitive (I think) to the power of words to hurt and heal, and trying to be more careful. I do not try to deliberate hurt anyone, but I am aware that even unintentional words can hurt.

Mostly I think our motivation comes into this: Is there a good reason for sharing something? Are we sharing something to intentionally cause pain or damage to another person? If we are, we must be silent. However, sometimes we must speak up, even if it causes pain. Words that heal can hurt because the truth can hurt. No one likes to be told or convicted of truth he doesn’t want to see. However, there are times when to remain silent would be to hurt others more because it allows them to continue in a sin or fault that will destroy them. Proverbs 27:6 says:

Faithful are the wounds of a friend; Although the kisses of an enemy are profuse.

This is just something that I have pondered.

P.S. Before I published this, someone in my Facebook Pirkei Avot group shared the following quote regarding our discussion about not associating with an evil person. The quote was about speaking up against evil. It seems appropriate here:

In general, humility is a good trait. You’re better off concealing your good deeds in the shadows than putting them out for show in the limelight.

But when you come to the defense of truth and justice, then is a time to stand up and make yourself heard loud and clear.

As for your humility—there are moments when even that must be concealed.

I think the last sentence means that there are times when we must not remain in the shadows, but must take center stage to loudly defend truth and justice.

Just something to think about….

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