Have you ever wondered why at the end of Shemoneh Esrei we first ask Hashem, “Guard my tongue from evil…,” and then request from Him, “Open my heart to Your Torah…”? Rav Yisrael Meir HaKohen Kagan, better known as the Chofetz Chaim, says, “These two requests flow naturally from one another. One’s Torah maintains its value only when one guards his tongue; otherwise, the Torah is considered worthless. We therefore first pray that we may merit to speak properly and only then do we ask Hashem for the merit to study His holy Torah” (Shmiras HaLashon Volume 2, Chapter 1, second hagaha).
Why is this so? Because someone who disparages someone else (i.e., lashon hara) or tells someone the bad things someone else said about him and brought strife between the listener and that other person (i.e., rechilus), he loses the little Torah he acquired (Shmiras HaLashon volume 1, Sha’ar HaZechira, Chapter 7). In addition, he writes that one’s prayers are not accepted above if he speaks lashon hara. As Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai says, “If one has transgressed lashon hora his prayer does not go up in front of God because there rests on it a spirit of defilement” (Zohar volume 3, Metzora, page 53a).
1) Doesn’t the Gemara (Sotah 21a) say that Torah study protects one from punishment and saves him from sinning?
Yes, however, there is one exception to this Gemara:
“… Someone whose mouth is always open talking and does not take care to guard what comes out of his mouth—even if he learns all six orders of Mishnah and all of Shas several times over, when he arrives On High he will not find even one single Gemara that will protect him because each one, each page of his Torah learning, has dragging behind it a spirit, a repulsive force of impurity and defilement that hangs over it…” (Shmiras HaLashon Volume 2, epilogue, Chapter 1).
The Chofetz Chaim (ibid. Chapter 9) continues:
“It never ceases to amaze me how people are looking for mystical charms and blessings from our great sages for success and livelihood. But what possible value is there in these amulets and blessings if, God forbid, this person routinely violates the sin of lashon hara and the sin of rechilus? The Torah (Devarim 27:24) specifically promises this person that he will be cursed: ‘Cursed (‘arur’) is the person who secretly hits his fellow Jew,’ where Rashi explains this as pertaining to lashon hara (see Shavuos 36a).
“If people would listen to me, I would advise them even further: They should be especially careful to avoid this sin and not to in any way actively cause any ‘bad’ to their fellow Jew, especially in the realm of theft or violence or oppression and deception and other similarly ‘bad’ actions (most certainly these reasons are a major catalyst toward the loss of a person’s wealth, to the point where he is left with nothing… Nevertheless, if my advice is followed, then obviously this person’s assets will be blessed far more than using any mystical amulets. Everyone knows that the curses in the Torah are always preceded by Hashem’s blessings: ‘Blessed is whoever does not hit his fellow Jew—and all of Israel answered Amen to this’ (Sotah 32a). Most assuredly this blessing will come true and will endure” (Shmiras HaLashon Volume 2, Chapter 10).
…There is yet another great and holy benefit that evolves from disciplining one’s language. That great benefit is peace! If one is very careful about one’s speech he will remove from himself the jealousy of others. People will like him and will confide secrets to him. People will not gossip about this person because they hold this person in high esteem. It is said in the name of the Ari z”l that measure for measure, as you are discreet about other people, they will be discreet about you…” (Shmiras HaLashon Volume 1, Sha’ar HaZechira, Chapter 11).
To be continued…
By Mordechai Lewis
Mordechai Lewis is a 25-year-old yeshiva bachur who is kovea itim while working. He enjoys freelance writing on varied Jewish hashkafic topics as well as divrei Torah.