Monday, April 4, 2011

Stopping Lashon Hara - A Powerful Thought from Rabbi Nachman of Breslev for Metzora (and Tazria)

This week, between Minchah and Ma'ariv at the Carlebach Minyan at Bobby Rosenberg's house, Bobby welcomed Rav Erez Moshe Doron, who has just moved into Yad Binyamin and is apparently extremely well-known across Israel as a big teacher of Rabbi Nachman's teachings. (I had no idea) Rav Erez shared a powerful thought about lashon Hara that I'd like to share with you. (By the way, if you happen to live in Yad Binyamin, Rav Doron will soon be giving a shiur on Shabbat afternoon on the teachings of Rabbi Nachman. For details contact Bobby directly.)

It's well known that tzara'at emanates from the speaking of Lashon hara - slanderous speech. Yet, with all that we know about the prohibition of slander, and the damage that it causes, we never ask the next question: why do we speak lashon hara? Why is slandering a fellow Jew so powerfully enticing? Why do we like speaking evil about others?
Rav Erez suggested that the principle begins with a famous Mishnah in Negaim. (That's the masechet that deals with tzara'at.) The Mishnah teaches,
כל הנגעים אדם רואה, חוץ מנגעי עצמו.
A man may see every ailment, other than his own.
In the context of the Mishnah, we learn from this that a Kohen can declare all incidents of tzara'at as impure, except his own. Yet, commentators have a field day with this Mishnah, and especially the unusual language of רואה, meaning, "he sees," deriving the obvious truism that, "a person sees all blemishes, other than his own." While everyone else can see my faults clear as day, for some reason I can't see them. How true it is!
Yet, Rav Doron answered our lashan hara question by reading the line only slightly differently:
כל הנגעים אדם רואה חוץ, מנגעי עצמו
Every blemish that a person sees external to him - comes from his own blemishes
Read this way, the Mishnah communicates an even more powerful truth: when I see faults in others, I'm really seeing my own faults without even realizing it. Others' failures that match our own, trigger an instinctive desire to criticize ourselves. Yet, because I refuse to at least consciously acknowledge my own faults, I can only criticize the faults I see in my neighbor.
Why can't we - or at least won't we - see our own failings? That's due to a deeper problem. Quoting Rav Nachman of Breslev, Rav Doron said that deep down, we won't look at ourselves because we really believe that we're bad. We're evil. So I don't want to look at myself, because I'm afraid of what I'll truly see.
But, said Rav Nachman, we're wrong. We're not evil. In reality, we're good - very good, and our failings stem from an unwillingness to believe in and look at ourselves. Because if we really thought that we were good, we'd have no problem seeing the "dirt" in our personalities and trying to clean it. After all, I'm generally clean. All I need to do is brush off a little "stain." But because I think that I'm really bad, I don't even want to look at myself in the mirror, so I look at others around me. I see my own failings in them. And I speak loshon hara.
What's the solution? How do I stop speaking slander about others? The first step is seeing the good in myself, and understanding that we really are good people. This, said Rav Doron, is actually a verse in Tehillim that we all know by heart.
מִי-הָאִישׁ, הֶחָפֵץ חַיִּים;  אֹהֵב יָמִים, לִרְאוֹת טוֹב. 
נְצֹר לְשׁוֹנְךָ מֵרָע;  וּשְׂפָתֶיךָ, מִדַּבֵּר מִרְמָה.  

Who is the man that desires life, and loves days, that he may see good therein?
Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile.
Again Rav Doron reread the first verse:
מִי-הָאִישׁ, הֶחָפֵץ חַיִּים, אֹהֵב יָמִים - לִרְאוֹת טוֹב
Who is the man that desires life and loves days - let him see the good!

If we want to keep our tongues from evil and stop saying lashon hara we must first fulfill the previous verse: לראות טוב - to see the good within ourselves. Once we understand just how good we are, we can aspire to imagine how much better we can truly be.