Monday, July 02, 2007

On Lashon Hara, Again

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


Jacob Da Jew said...

I got the emails too...Didn't know how to respond to them.

Why are we getting dragged into this unholy mess?

Disgusting. Airing out dirty laundry in public is something I NEVER do.

Annie said...

Jacob- I responded by saying that I didn't want to hear lashon hara, and that I hoped that this person got the help that they clearly needed to work through their issues.

harley said...

I responded by shaking my fist angrily in the air. Then I walked a blind woman across the street. Whenever someone does something really shitty, I try to counteract it with something nice. Even if the action doesn't directly rectify the bad situation, it makes me feel like a little balance has been restored to the universe.

Anonymous said...

While you're clearly not going to reveal the details about which blogger it was, you probably shouldn't have posted any of the information so readers wouldn't even think about trying to guess.

Annie said...

Anon- that's probably true, but I was, in part at least, hoping that some other bloggers could give me advice about what they've done in the situation.

Liberal Jew said...

I think you should publish the email of the bad blogger to teach him/her a lesson. Kidding just kidding.

Jack's Shack said...

I took that blogger out for a long walk on a short pier.

rockofgalilee said...

I don't think there was any problem posting the post. I think that if you get more email from the person in the future, you should quickly glance at it and if it looks like smut, treat it like a Viagra ad or a stock promotion and delete it.
Trading negia for lashon hara is an interesting idea. I think that it is great that you know yourself well enough to know that you are letting one thing and to strengthen yourself in another that you feel you can keep.

Annie said...

LJ- I thought about it. Briefly, and then regained sanity.

Jack- that might have been a bit of an overreaction.

ROG-Yeah, now that I know the email address I'll probably just delete them on sight.

As for "trading" negia for lashon hara, I hate to think of it that way (although practically it was), but I felt awful about just "giving up" on being shomeret negia, and felt that I should concentrate on another bein adam l'chavero mitzvah to ameliorate the harm to my soul. As melodramatic as that sounds.