Dealing with Adversity – The Safeguard of Guarding Our Tongues

In Parashas Tetzaveh, the Torah describes the special garments of the Kohen Gadol. Among them was the me’il — the robe — which covered him from the neck to the ground. “You shall make the robe of the Ephod … a golden bell and a pomegranate … on the hem of the robe, all around. It must be on Aharon, in order to minister. Its sound shall be … “heard when he enters the Sanctuary.”

The Gemara in Arachin 16a tells us that the me’il effected atonement for the sin of lashon hara: Let an item such as a bell, which gives off sound, come and atone for a sin done with sound. The golden bells that hung from its hem and rang with the movements of the Kohen Gadol and pomegranate-like ornaments that remained quiet evoked the idea that there is a time to speak and a time to remain silent.

The Gemara also explains why one afflicted with tzaraas — the punishment for speaking lashon hara — was required to go into isola­tion. Just as his words caused friction among people — causing a separation — similarly, he is to remove himself from others.

The Chofetz Chaim points out that deroga­tory speech holds back the Geulah. If sinas chinam — which lashon hara serves to bring about — could cause the Beis Hamikdash to be destroyed, it stands to reason that it can hin­der its rebuilding. When the Bnei Yisrael were suffering in Mitzrayim, Moshe Rabbeinu would circulate among them to shoulder their burden. One day he observed an Egyp­tian attacking a Yid and thereupon killed him. When Moshe learned that someone informed on him he remarked, “Indeed the matter is known,” which Chazal explain to mean that Moshe now understood that lashon hara was the possible cause of the prolonging of Galus Mitzrayim.

But it is even more serious than that. The Gemara in Arachin (15b) also says that regarding all who speak lashon hara, it is as if he denies Hashem, chas v’shalom, as it says in Tehillim (12:5), “Because of our tongues we shall conquer, our lips are with us, who is master over us?” Rabbeinu Yonah in Shaarei Teshuvah (3:200) cites this Gemara to teach that one with this attitude is not a maamin because of the harm he inflicts on other peo­ple, as exudes from another passuk in Tehillim (54:), “For strangers have risen against me … they have not set Hashem before themselves.”

Maseches Chulin (89a) relates that the world exists only on account of people who are capable of keeping quiet (shebolem es atzmo) when being provoked, as it says, “Toleh eretz al blimah — [Hashem] suspends the earth upon ‘beli mah’ (Iyov 26:7), intimating a person who remains silent when offended. We see here the far-reaching consequences of guarding one’s speech.

The Chofetz Chaim says that if one can remain quiet in the face of verbal attack it is akin to donning armor that protects its wear­er against projectiles shot his way (Chofetz Chaim al HaTorah).

Harav Yehudah Zev Segal, zt”l, the Manchester Rosh Yeshivah, greatly empha­sized the centrality of shemiras halashon in Yiddishkeit. People worldwide continu­ally sought his guidance and brachos for a wide variety of challenges — shidduchim, children, parnassah, health and more, Rav Segal’s advice for them was often to learn two halachos of sefer Chofetz Chaim each day. “There is no family that has accepted the prac­tice of learning two halachos a day that has not experienced a yeshuah,” he said. To facilitate this, he introduced a shemiras halashon daily calendar, whose learning has been a source of zechuyos and shemirah for Klal Yisrael.

A woman undertook to learn two halachos of shemiras halashon daily as a zechus for a friend who had been seeking her zivug for a long time. On a particular day, the woman fin­ished the sefer at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. A mere two hours later, at 6 p.m., her friend became a kallah.

Watching our tongues not only serves as a source of protection. It brings blessing and salvation into our own lives, as well as to the lives of others. By viewing other people in a positive light we speak in positive words, and strengthen the power of our tefillos, which are tainted by derogatory speech. In this way, we draw the Shechinah into our midst with all the accompanying blessings and bring the Geulah closer.

Rabbi Yosef Gesser is a longtime writer for Hamodia Newspaper as well as an inspirational speaker on vari­ous topics, including dealing with adversity. He can be reached at

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