David Halperin came up with this motto: “Lashon HaRa (evil speech ) does not speak to me”. He leads this successful campaign (with ads and stickers, that can be seen all over Israel) in memory of his father, the wrestler Rabbi Raphael Halperin. This week he told me that both children from the secular Kibbutz Mizra and children from a Haredi Talmud Torah ordered educational sets from him. In both places they liked the idea.
It is a lot more than a catchy phrase. Towards the end of the book of Bereshit (Genesis) we can see how evil speech is the reason that pushes us out into exile. The punishment that Adam and Eve got for believing in the snake’s evil tongue was exile, expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Yosef spoke Lashon HaRa against his brothers, told bad things about them and went down to exile in Egypt, and following him – all the rest of the family did so as well. Later on, the spies spoke negatively of the Land, and the People stayed in the desert for 40 years and did not merit to enter it. Still later, baseless hatred, blowing the whistle and gossiping caused the destruction of the Holy Temple.
What does evil speech have to do with exile? The Land of Israel is a special place to live in. It requires of us positive, proper, truthful speech. Some say that the Chafetz Chaim taught this topic at the beginning of the 20th century in such a powerful way – precisely before our return to the Land in that time.
The culture of speech is not a marginal matter. The words that come out of our mouth (and our keyboard) are those which build our society here, and the way each of us will choose to speak, will determine whether we will survive here. The Torah does not phrase it as a campaign sticker, yet the message reverberates since the Book of Genesis: “Lashon HaRa does not speak to me.”