Say what? Lashon hara are words that hurt. It can be lies, but it is also speaking truth that harms someone or discredits their reputation. Sometimes Lashon Hara can be positive speech overheard by a third party that hurts the feelings of others.
Often times, after an observant Jew prays the Shema, they recite six remembrances from the Torah, one of them being when Miriam committed lashon hara on the way from Egypt. Miriam, the prophetess and Moses’ big sister, criticized her brother Moses after he divorced his wife Tzipora.
In her defense, Miriam was worried about Tzipora’s well being (sisters need to look out for each other, right?) Miriam spoke with no intention of discrediting or harming Moses. But G-d reminded Miriam that Moses now had the immense responsibility of teaching thousands of travel-weary Jews the laws of the Torah. Because of his spiritual level, Moses could not give Tzipora his full attention.
To punish Miriam for criticizing her brother, G-d afflicted her with leprosy for seven days. Soon Miriam was welcomed back to her place within society.
Miriam’s suffering, though short-lived, is a reminder that when we commit lashon hara, we bring about harm. We harm the person(s) we’re speaking about, we bring harm to the person(s) we’re speaking to– and we bring harm upon ourselves. The tongue is powerful, and we need a consistent reminder of the spiritual damage of lashon hara. That’s why observant Jews remember Miriam’s story everyday.
It may seem harsh that of all of the amazing things Miriam accomplished, she is remembered daily for an error she made. But we, too, can be remembered by our careless words.
I will never forget when my grandmother, whom I loved dearly, told me that my sister inherited the looks in my family, while I inherited the brains. I always took this to mean that she thought my sister was much prettier than me, though I doubt that was her intention. What my grandmother said to me was lashon hara, and the memory of her words stick with me to this day.
Think carefully before you speak. Our words have painful, lasting consequences, even (sometimes especially) if we believe they are well intended.
To read more in-depth about Lashon hara, visit https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/speech-and-lashon-harah