In our day and age, social media has become a place overflowing with hateful speech, and we need the laws of lashon hara more than ever.

According to the Sages, Tazria and Metzora are about the power of speech to heal or harm. These parshiyot deal at length with tsaraat, the skin condition that was a punishment for lashon hara, evil speech. The word metzora, meaning, one who was suffering from this condition, was, the Sages said, a shortened version of the phrase motzi shem ra, one who says bad things about another person (slander).

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

They proved this from the case of Miriam who spoke badly about Moses, and then suffered tsaraat as a result (Bamidbar 12). Moses mentions this incident many years later, urging the Israelites to take it to heart: “Remember what the Lord your God did to Miriam along the way after you came out of Egypt” (Devarim 24:9).

The rabbis said some powerful things about lashon hara. They said that it is worse than the three cardinal sins — idolatry, adultery and bloodshed — combined. It harms three people: the one who speaks it, the one about whom it is spoken and the one who listens to it.

The story of Joseph began when he spoke negatively about some of his brothers, and their relationship turned bitter. The entire generation that left Egypt was not allowed to enter the Promised Land because they had spoken badly about it. They Sages said that one who speaks lashon hara is like someone who does not believe in God.

In our day and age, social media has become a place overflowing with hateful speech, and we need the laws of lashon hara more than ever!

From Covenant & Conversation Family Edition

  1. Why do you think the Rabbis said that lashon hara also harms the person speaking it and the person listening to it?
  2. Have you ever seen hateful speech on social media. How did it make you feel?

(See answers below)

  1. Lashon hara can destroy lives, but not just the life of the subject of the hateful speech. The person who speaks it and the person who listens are both negatively impacted by engaging in this behavior. Their reputations may well be affected, too, and the way they perceive the subject will change from discussing them. There is no such thing as a passive, innocent bystander when it comes to evil speech.
  2. Everyone who has a presence on social media, no matter how young, has witnessed hateful speech. Researchers believe an extraordinarily high percentage of young people have suffered from this firsthand, and even those that haven’t have witnessed it in some form. Perhaps the saddest occurrences are when young people witness adults using this kind of language in their social media posts. Children learn from the models provided by the adults in their lives.