Leprosy is described in the Torah as a skin disease that can manifest in your skin, clothing, and even your house. Rabbis throughout the centuries described leprosy as a manifestation and even punishment for “evil speech,” commonly known as gossip and called in Hebrew lashon hara.
How often have you gossiped? I will bet that ALL humans have engaged in gossip. We all do it. Some more, some less.
Our tradition says that when a person is involved in gossip, the consequence is as if they were involved in murder! Yes! That bad!
The realization is that gossip affects not only the person who speak it but the person who hears it and the person whom the gossip is about.
Imagine a working environment where gossip did not exist. How would it affect the culture or the relationships we have with our colleagues?
There are different ways we can address gossip, but perhaps the important question is not how to treat it, but how to contain it and remain uncontaminated by it.
Gossip in its essence is spiritual contamination. After gossiping we are a bit “impure.”
Who would want that? And that brings me to the question- how do we make ourselves pure?
To answer that, I came up with an analogy—just like a table that needs a minimum of three legs to have stability, so is our quest to be and become pure.
The first leg is self-awareness: knowing ourselves and OWNING who we are. The more we commit ourselves to who we want to become in the future, the more we can be THAT in the present. Noticing how we operate in this world, (do we gossip, do we get angered easily, etc.), helps us realize the danger of contamination of our own souls.
The second leg is knowing others, that is, understanding and relating to the emotional intelligence of other people. If we know and understand the influence that someone can have on us, that power that they have in ultimately taking us down with their own negative habits or actions, it puts us in the position of having to make a decision.
That decision is informed by answering certain questions: Do we want to participate in this conversation? How does it make us feel? What does this gossip mean to me? Do I want to be connected to someone who speaks about another person?
Answering these questions can influence our own behaviors and our own habits. Understand that when you are around people who regularly gossip, it is just a matter of time before you become the subject.
The last leg I offer you in keeping and maintaining your purity from gossip is the leg of trusting and committing to a higher calling! You may be resolute to not gossip, and you may surround yourself with like-minded people, yet you sometimes can regress. We all do. Trusting a source of power which is outside of us (in my case, God) helps us stay on course the times that we relapse. There is a prayer Jews recite daily that starts with “God, keep my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking lies.” I say it daily!
There is a known phrase in Judaism that the world is built on three principles: The Torah, service, and acts of love and kindness.
The first principle, Torah, is the last leg in my example. It’s that connection to what the Almighty wants and desires from us.
The second principle, Service (Avodah), is the awareness of knowing ourselves. It is part of engaging ourselves and determining what we are willing to do in the service of God and humanity to create a better world.
The third principle, acts of love and kindness (gemilut chasadim) is connected to knowing others. Whom do I surround myself with? What do I do that I and others find meaningful? How does it affect my life moving forward toward my optimum self?
Next time you feel like gossiping and you don’t want to wobble, think of the three-legged table!