Stopping tragedy with our words is not lashon hara

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Translation by Yehoshua Siskin

More than 150 years before the tragedies from staying silent that all too often make headlines today, Rav Yisrael Isserlein wrote about how to stop such tragedies from happening or how to quickly put an end to them should they occur. If we see or hear about an authority figure - an army officer, a boss, a parent - or any other person, for that matter, who harms another, it's our responsibility to act. We are forever reminding ourselves of the pitfalls of lashon hara (gossip or negative speech), of the importance of speaking nicely and never hurtfully. However, it is also important to be aware from a young age that when something bad happens, it is not lashon hara to talk about it. It is our obligation to speak, to report, to complain, to shout.

Here are the relevant words of Rav Isserlein:

"All the books written about morality have made earth-shattering noise over the sin of lashon hara, but I would rather make earth-shattering noise over an even greater and more common sin: preventing oneself from speaking up where doing so would save the oppressed from the oppressor. For example, if someone saw a person waiting in ambush on a road in the desert to kill an unsuspecting passerby, or saw a person digging a tunnel at night under someone's house or store, should the one seeing such a thing refrain from warning the endangered individual because of the prohibition against lashon hara? The sin of remaining silent in such cases is irredeemable since it is a violation of 'You shall not stand idly by the shedding of your fellow's blood' (Leviticus 19:16). It is ultimately a matter of the heart's intent: when words are meant to disadvantage or harm another, it's lashon hara, but when words are meant to benefit or save another, it's a great mitzvah. Yet how often do we see our friends heading towards trouble but restrain ourselves from speaking up, saying. "Why should we get involved in a matter that does not concern us?".

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