During Sefiras Ha'omer, it’s especially important to increase ahavas Yisrael. As it states, "Love your friend like yourself" (19:18) and Rabbi Akiva says, "This is a great principle of the Torah" Rabbi Akiva's students died during this time because they didn’t honor one another sufficiently. This indicates that we right their sins by honoring and loving our fellow man.
Ahavas Yisrael should be so sincere and genuine until one actually feels the plight of his fellow man.
On Shabbos, one is obligated to forget all financial woes.
This week’s parashah discusses tzaraas, which comes from lashon hara. Lashon hara is from the severest sins, yet people are remiss with it.
The Gemara teaches, “There isn’t poorer than a dog and there isn't wealthier than a pig” (Shabbos 155:). Rashi explains, "Nothing is wealthier than a pig because it can eat all types of foods. It finds food on its own, and also people feed it a lot." A dog however is poor. Rashi explains, "No one has compassion on a dog to give it a lot of food." Why does the Gemara mention this? The Vilna Gaon zt'l explains that the Gemara is speaking in riddles and is hinting to the wealthiest mitzvah and in contrast, the poorest mitzvah. The wealthiest and best kept mitzvah is the prohibition of eating pork. There isn't any other sin in the Torah that is upheld as well as this one is. (Even non-religious Jews often refrain from eating pork.) The poorest and least kept mitzvah is the dog, which represents the prohibition of speaking lashon hara, as the Gemara says, “Whoever speaks lashon hara, it would be proper to throw him to the dogs.” Lashon hara is a very grave sin. The Or Hachaim HaKadosh (14:9) writes, “Nothing distances a person from his Creator like lashon hara.” The Gemara compares it to the three cardinal sins: idolatry, adultery, and murder, yet, people aren't careful with it. It’s therefore called the poorest mitzvah. Every mitzvah has a mazal. The prohibition of eating pork has a very good mazal, while lashon hara has a poor mazal. Few people take it so seriously.
No one can take that which is destined for somebody else. As Chazal say, "No one can take away what is destined for his fellow man —not even a hairsbreadth…" (Yoma 38).
"Who is the person who desires life…? He should guard his tongue from speaking bad" (Tehillim 34). Reb Yanai said, "I’ve been saying this passuk my entire life, and I never knew its simple meaning until that peddler explained it to me!”
When one is careful with his words, he will inevitably be saved from a lot of stress and anger, and consequently he will live a better and longer life.
"Someone who guards his tongue is protecting himself from troubles" (Proverbs 21) as his caution will prevent him from many disputes and hardships. The Chofetz Chaim zt'l adds that being cautious with one's speech enhances the quality of one's life. The peddler called it 'a medicine for life', and he didn’t call it a medicine against death. Being cautious from speaking lashon hara will result with a more fulfilling and satisfying life, without stress and anxiety, and nothing will be lacking.
Rebbe Uri of Strelisk zy’a said, “When one desires to say something forbidden, and he holds back, it's as though he fasted eighty-four days. Rebbe Ahron of Belz zy’a added, “And I say, nach un nach, un nach," which means that it’s like fasting for eighty-four days, and much, much more than that.
Another step in the purification process of the metzorais to take two birds, as it states, "The Cohen commands, and it shall be taken for the person who is becoming pure two live, kosher birds…" (14:4). One bird is slaughtered over an earthenware cup filled with fountain water, the other bird is dipped into the mixture of blood and water (together with a cedar branch, crimson wool, and hyssop) and sprinkled on the metzora seven times. Rashi explains, "Since tzaraas is the result of lashon hara, therefore birds are needed for his purification, because birds are always talking…." We still need to explain why two birds were necessary. If it were solely to represent the lashon hara he spoke, one bird should be enough. The Zohar (Tazria 46:) answers that "just as one is punished for lashon hara, one is also punished for the times when he should have spoken kindly to his friend and refrained…” One bird atones for the lashon hara, the other bird atones for the kind words that he held back. With words, one can teach Torah, give good counsel, offer encouragement, say words that will increase friendship, and even say something humorous to make people happy. The Shevet Mussar calls such speech tzedakah, and adds, "It’s only words, so be generous with them."
The Midrash (Vayikra 33:1) teaches, “Reb Shimon ben Gamliel said to his slave, Tevi, ‘Go to the market and buy me the best piece of meat.’ Tevi returned with a tongue. The next day, Reb Shimon ben Gamliel said, ‘Today, go to the market and buy me the worst piece of meat.’ Tevi returned with a tongue, again. Reb Shimon ben Gamliel asked, ‘Why did you buy tongue when I ask for a good piece of meat, and why did you buy tongue, when I asked for the worst piece of meat?’ “Tevi replied, ‘When a tongue is good, there is nothing better, and when a tongue is bad, there is nothing worse.’” When the tongue is used to harm others there’s nothing worse, and when the tongue is used for chessed, Torah, and tefillah, there’s nothing better.
Speech has the ability to give life or death, depending on how it's used.
The Chovas Halevavos (Shaar HaKniah 7) reveals that when one speaks lashon hara, an exchange occurs. The speaker’s mitzvos go to the person he slandered, and the sins of the person that was slandered go to the speaker. The Chovas Halevavos writes, "If someone speaks lashon hara on you… tell him, 'Don't slander me, my brother. Have mercy on your merits, so you don’t lose them, without you knowing.’ It’s been told about one of the chassidim who sent a bowl filled with fruits from his country to the person who spoke lashon hara on him with a note attached that said: 'The gifts —your mitzvos — that you sent me [when you slandered me] have arrived. I express my gratitude to you with this bowl…' Another chassid said, 'Many people will come to their judgment (in heaven) and will be shown their good deeds, and will find among their merits many mitzvos that they never performed. They will say we never did these. And they will be answered: They were performed by the persons who spoke lashon hara on you.’ Those who spoke lashon hara will discover that they are missing mitzvos. They will be told, 'You lost them when you spoke against this person, and when you spoke against that person...' Some people will find sins in their 'book of faults' that they never did. They will complain, 'We never did these sins.' They will be answered, 'These were given to you because of ploni and ploni whom you spoke against. As it states, "Return to your neighbors' bossom seven fold, the amount of disgrace that they disgraced you…' (Tehillim 79:12)." Taking these matters into consideration, no one will ever desire to speak lashon hara; the loss is just too great. Nevertheless, all his good deeds will return to him when he does teshuvah. Reb Zvi Kaziglover zy’a explains, the Torah and the good deeds of the metzora will return to him when he repents and accepts on himself to refrain from speaking lashon hara.
Halachah teaches that if someone asks you for forgiveness, you shouldn’t be cruel, and you should forgive them (see Shulchan Aruch 606:1). Therefore, if someone spoke lashon hara on you, and asks you forgiveness, you should also forgive him.
The Ben Ish Chai zt’l asks: The lashon hara that was spoken against you redeemed you from all your sins and gave you the speaker’s mitzvos. Who would want to forgive and lose all that good? Wouldn’t it be wiser not to forgive the speaker of lashon hara, so you can remain with his mitzvos, and he remains with your sins? The Ben Ish Chai answers that by forgiving your fellow man, all your sins will be atoned for, as the Gemara teaches, "Whoever forgives others, his sins are forgiven" (Yoma 23). So by forgiving, you will still remain without sins, so you may as well forgive your fellow man. And although you will lose the mitzvos that you earned, nevertheless, forgiving is also a great mitzvah. Because by forgiving someone who spoke lashon hara on you, you are performing the mitzvah of השבת אבידה ,returning lost items (because you are returning to him the mitzvos he lost due to his lashon hara). The reward for אבידה השבת is in accordance to the value of the item returned. So when one forgives, and gives back all the mitzvos he earned from the lashon hara, he will earn a great mitzvah of השבת אבידה. Therefore Shulchan Aruch advises that one shouldn’t be cruel, and he should forgive his fellow man, because by forgiving you don’t lose anything at all.
The Gemara (Gittin 36) states, "Those who are shamed, and don’t shame back; they hear disgrace, but don’t answer back; they serve Hashem with love; and they are happy with their affliction, about them the verse says "those whom Hashem loves are like the sun, coming forth in all its glory" (Judges 5:31).
Rebbe Shlomke of Zvhil zt'l would often speak about how much one gains by not answering back. He said that it saves a person from many troubles and punishments, and at times even from death.
Once, Rebbe Shlomke's granddaughter came to him and told him how she and her family were suffering immense poverty. They almost didn’t have bread to eat. Rebbe Shlomke advised her to pray at the Kosel. She went there and poured her heart out, with piercing sobs and loud prayers. In that era, the Kosel plaza was just a small area, and her shouts disturbed one of the women standing nearby. "Sha! Sha!" The lady kept shouting at her, but to no avail. She continued crying out all of her pain in her prayers. When she left the Kosel, the lady asked her, "What did you think? That the entire Kosel is yours? Why can't you pray silently? There are other people around who have their own prayers they want to say. They don't want to hear yours…" And she disgraced her some more in this manner. Rebbe Shlomke’s granddaughter bore the shame in silence and didn’t answer back. On the way home, she found a Napoleon coin, which could support her family for the next half a year. She came to Rebbe Shlomke and said, "Baruch Hashem, Hashem heard my prayer and sent me the money. But why did I have to undergo all that shame?" Rebbe Shlomke explained to her that the shame was the beginning of her salvation. "Hashem heard your prayers, and therefore, Hashem sent someone to shame you. That was the beginning of your salvation, because shame has the power to remove all forms of troubles and hardships from you and from your family. And after the matter was rectified, you found the money."
Reb Moshe Leib of Sassov zt'l said, "Someone who is shamed should reply, 'May Hashem reward you, because you removed the death penalty from me.'
The Rema'k teaches, "From all types of atonement, the most ideal is to endure shame and embarrassment. Afflictions [such as fasting] cause bitul Torah, and perhaps he will be considered a sinner [for weakening himself, which prevents him from learning Torah, as stated in Orach Chaim 571]. But when one suffers shame, he eats and drinks and his sins are forgiven…. If one will be asked, 'How do you prefer to attain your atonement? By money loss, death of your children (may Hashem protect us) or that Hashem smite you with disease and fever, death and Gehinom?' He doesn’t want any of these. He will shout chas veshalom! Rachmana litzlan! Save me! [But if he doesn’t have any suffering], how will he have atonement for his sins? There is only one solution: 'put your cheek out to the person who wants to smack you' (Eichah 3:30). This means to accept your shame in silence. And then you can eat and drink and you won't need to fast…"