I know that I've talked about Lashon Hara* before, but something came up that made me think about it. And I apologize as this entry is sort of introspective, and therefore boring.
While in college I was shomeret negiah* for a significant period of time. After a while I changed my mind about what I was doing and why, and as part of my spiritual trade-off I decided that I'd shake hands, but that I'd focus on learning and observing the laws of lashon hara. So, my chevrusa* (a really terrific girl, who is one of the holiest people I've ever met. No joke, the light of G-d shines from her countenance) and I learned the major laws, and I've tried pretty hard to observe them. I had a sign in my room that said "Goal of the day: Don't speak lashon hara; defend others from the same."
I recognize that this is super-lame, but, hey, it worked for me. Or at least, for the most part. Yesterday I found myself doing something I rarely do: I repeated malicious gossip about a person, by name, to someone of their acquaintance. As soon as the words left my mouth I said "oh that was awful lashon hara," and begged the person's forgiveness for exposing them to it. You see, I, by my carelessness implicated the hearer, and caused him to sin as well. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I'm not good enough of a person to be kept from sleep by an event like this, but it made me think. Why did this happen? Why now?
One theory is as follows: a few days ago, a fellow bloggers' ex forwarded me an email full of malicious gossip. I was pretty taken aback by it, and responded that I didn't really want to be involved, but a day later I received another email with more of the same. This fellow blogger had warned me a week or two ago that I might get such an email, but the virulence, and absolute awful things said were still shocking. And I think that having read them, I was affected. I have only myself to blame for my behavior, but I don't think that I would have tended towards lashon hara if I hadn't been so recently exposed to it.
One of the reasons I became Modern Orthodox (my parents are fairly observant Conservative) is that I believe that the Torah is a great guide to life. The mitzvot* bein adam l'chavero (between man and his fellow) constitute a guide to behavior that I find very attractive. The laws of lashon hara are just a part of that.
I'd be the first person to tell you that I'm none to holy. I'm not as good at going to services as I used to be, or at blessing my foods, but there are certain things that I absolutely will not allow to fall by the wayside. One of those is my treatment of other human beings. It is absolutely crucial to me to see btzelem elokim* (the light of G-d) in every individual, and to use that to treat them with dignity and respect, no matter the situation. Yet, somehow I've managed to let some of that slip. I think that it's probably time to call my chevrusa...
*Lashon Hara literally means evil speech, but refers to gossip. In Jewish law gossip isn't just malicious gossip, but really any non-essential information passed from one person to another about a third party. There are a few exceptions where this type of speech is allowed, but very few, and very specific situations.
*Shomeret negiah is the feminine version of shomer negiah, to observe (against) the touch. It signifies the observance of a sometimes complex set of laws derived from a biblical commandment to not "come near a woman who is niddah (having her period)." Practically it is observed through the avoidance of physical contact of any kind with people of the opposite gender. The exceptions are your immediate family, and your husband/wife. Different traditions hold that it is either acceptable to shake hands, or not, acceptable to hug, or not, and so on and so forth.
*Mitzvot are commandments, or good deeds, sometimes both