When is it Good to Speak and When Speech Must be Avoided in the Extreme

From HaGaon Rav Yaakov Sasson Shlit”a, The Head of Halacha Yomit translated by Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK.

In this week’s Parashah we shall learn the halachot of the leper and how to purify him from his impurity. Amongst the pessukim it states, “The cohen shall then order that for the person undergoing purification there be taken two live kosher birds, a piece of cedar, some crimson [wool], and a hyssop branch” (Vayikra 14:4).

As part of the leper’s purification he must take two birds. One is slaughtered and the other sent into the fields. Why two birds? Rashi explains that the afflictions come about due to the sin of lashon hara, which is the chattering of words. Therefore two birds had to be brought, which constantly chirp. Since the leper is punished for the sin of lashon hara and he must repent for this, therefore this is indicated through the two birds that constantly chirp.

It appears difficult to understand. What is the connection between birds tweeting and words of lashon hara? After all, the birds don’t speak lashon hara!

Regarding this it is told that in the generation before ours, two great people were meticulous to never talk lashon hara. One was the Chafetz Chaim [Rav Yisrael Meir HaCohen Kagan z”l 1838-1933] and the other the Imrei Emet of Gur [Rav Avraham Mordechai Alter z”l 1865-1948]. Both were incredibly careful regarding lashon hara, but there was a difference between them. Whereas the Imrei Emet spoke very little and would only respond to people with a few words, on the other hand, the Chafetz Chaim spoke a lot, when giving advice, guiding and speaking in Torah, and not withstanding this, he was
careful to never sin with lashon hara in any form whatsoever.

We therefore learn that talking per se doesn’t mean that a person will definitely transgress lashon hara. The question is rather what is being spoken. And so the question is more pertinent namely that the birds that constantly tweet and chirp are permitted to do this, for they do not speak lashon hara. If so, what is the connection between them and the person who speaks lashon hara?

This is beautifully explained by the Gaon Rav Yaakov Galinski zt”l (Vehigadta):

In the Talmud (Sanhedrin) we learnt that people who loan one another with interest are disqualified from giving testimony. Our chachamim consider how may a person who lent money with interest repent and prove to us that he is in indeed fully repentant and on the good path, so that he may now be considered a [kosher] “witness”. Our chachamim explain that if this person will rip up all his documents, which he lent with interest and will refrain from now on from lending in interest, even to Gentiles, then through this we may accept his repentance and consider him fit to give testimony!

There is a well-known halachah, which the Torah states that “you may take such interest from a Gentile” [Devarim 20:21], meaning that it is a Torah mitzvah to lend Gentiles with interest, it is only to Jews that the prohibition exists. If so, why is the person who repents from the prohibition of being
accustomed to lending with interest required not to lend even Gentiles? But it is permitted to lend Gentiles with interest! Rashi explains this sparingly, that the concept of interest should be forgotten from their mouths, so that they not revert to their bad ways. Meaning, a person who has already become habitualised with the prohibition of interest, at this time, when he desires to repent, he must take an extreme approach, that even permitted ways of lending with interest he must accept upon himself not to lend with. So that he will be detached and distant from the prohibition!

Likewise, said the Baal Shem Tov [Rav Israel ben Eliezer z”l 1698-1760], that a person who repents from telling lies, must refrain from lying even in cases where lying is permitted. For example, for the sake of shalom, when it is permitted to lie, such a person must refrain altogether from falsehoods.

In this vein, we may say that whilst speaking per se isn’t forbidden, when a person is meticulous with what comes out of his mouth, he is indeed able to speak and not stumble [with forbidden words], but someone who has already become prevalent to speak lashon hara, to the extent that he has been
afflicted with leprosy, he must refrain altogether from excessive talk and only speak what is essential.

For this reason the leper takes two birds for his purification, to indicate that even permitted “tweets”, words and basis chatter, he must also distance himself from, so that he not be ensnared again in the sin of lashon hara!

Likewise, it is known that sometimes many people sit together and drink a little alcohol, but there are individuals who refrain from even this, why? Because this person was previously addicted to alcohol and only due to tremendous discipline, he was able to be weaned from his dreadful addiction. And now he knows that if he will revert to drink, even a little, then his addiction will take hold in its full force! The same is true of all requirements to distance from sins, which people have become accustomed to transgressing [and now wish to repent from]!

Shabbat Shalom & Hodesh Tov!