You Talking About Me?
You Talking About Me? By Elisha Greenbaum
The Talmud (Erchin 15b) describes the effect of loshon horah (malicious talk) as having a three-way impact: it negatively affects the spiritual state of the one who indulged in the gossip, the listener, and the one spoken about.
OK, we can understand how tale bearing, slander and offensive language can have a deleterious spiritual effect on the gossiper, and it’s similarly understood that taking pleasure in hearing the shortcomings of others stultifies and desensitizes a person’s character. However, what did the object of the gossip, the poor schnook being stabbed in the back, do wrong?
Words Affect and Effect Reality.
The first word of this week’s Torah reading, and indeed the colloquial name of the whole section, is Emor–“Speak.”
Speech is the process of disclosing information, verbally divulging that which was previously concealed. This process of exposing one’s own inner being by articulating one’s thoughts is parallel to the effect one has on others just by talking about them.
Two of the ten identifying characteristics of a truly virtuous person are the inability to perceive evil in another and the absolute determination to only portray others in a positive light (Maimonides, Tract on Reason, Chap 5).
This isn’t the Jewish equivalent of the benighted character in Voltaire’s Candide who believes, “This is the best possible result in the best possible world,” no matter the evidence to the contrary. Rather, speaking positively about others causes them to act positively. The very act of ascribing positive rationales to the intemperate behaviours one witnesses, unlocks the innate, though hereto concealed goodness embedded in people’s psyche, and develops their moral disposition to the point where they will automatically be driven to live up to your self-fulfilling prophecy.
Man’s essence is a mass of conflicting unrealized emotions. Give a nudge in a positive direction by awakening someone’s dormant positive capabilities and the ripple effects can be remarkable. Malicious gossip can have the reverse effect. The object of the conversation mightn’t be present during the libellous discussion, he might never hear about it, but the untoward ripple effects awakening his baser characteristics will have inevitable untoward negative ramifications.
Thus, the true implication of this week’s portion, “Speak!” Speak positively about others, let your words impact the world and let others be affected by those words, live up to your belief in them.