Within Jewish Law not all laws apply to everyone. There are some laws that apply specifically to males, some specifically to females, some to Kohanim, some to Leviim.
However, all Lavin (negative commandments – commandments where we are told not to do something) apply equally to males and females and therefore the prohibitions of speaking and hearing Lashon Hara pertain to both males and females1 Furthermore, the Mitzva of staying away from Lashon Hara was not given to a specific tribe or people of a certain status. It applies to everyone!
What About Children?
Although keeping Mitzvot is a Torah requirement that begins at Bar/Bat Mitzva, it is incumbent on a parent to educate their children at a younger age as to the correct way to behave. A person cannot just turn 12 or 13 and start living their lives according to a rule structure that they have had no practice keeping to until now.
Therefore if a parent hears their child speaking or listening to Lashon Hara they need to coach them as to the appropriate way to use their mouth (and ears)2 . Obviously, this needs to be done in a productive, encouraging way! If every time a child speaks inappropriately the parent screams at her to control her mouth, the child will be unlikely to listen. On the contrary, she will learn from the mother’s example not to control her mouth!
In the wonderful book 7 Habits Of Highly Effective Teens, Sean Covey (son of Stephen Covey) brings the following cryptic poem:
Who Am I?
I am your constant companion. I am
your greatest helper or heaviest burden.
I will push you onward or drag you down
to failure. I am completely at your command.
Half the things I do you might as well
turn over to me and I will be able to do
them quickly and correctly.
I am easily managed – you must merely
be firm with me. Show me exactly how you
want something done and after a few
lessons I will do it automatically. I am the
servant of all great individuals and, alas, of
all failures as well. Those who are great, I
have made great. Those who are failures,
I have made failures.
I am not a machine, though I work
with all the precision of a machine plus
the intelligence of a human. You may run
me for profit or run me for ruin – it
makes no difference to me.
Take me, train me, be firm with me,
and I will place the world at your feet. Be
easy with me and I will destroy you.
Who am I?
After giving it some thought, the answer that he wants you to come up with is Habit. The same force that creates wasteful, self-destructive conduct can, if harnessed correctly, create highly positive and immensely productive behaviors.
The power of ‘Habit’ and the importance of starting the Journey To Better Speech young is something the Chafetz Chaim stresses when he provides a profound insight into the difficulties many of us have controlling our mouths.
“It is so important for a parent to constantly direct their children from a young age regarding the concept of guarding their tongue from speaking Lashon Hara (and other forbidden speech like strife and lies). The Vilna Gaon wrote – “Only with constant habitual training will a person gain control and mastery over their speech and character traits”. If we truthfully contemplate the reason why the serious transgression of Lashon Hara is so widespread and out of control, we will realize that it is because from a young age we have become accustomed to say whatever we want without repercussion and therefore who even considers that there is anything wrong with it? If then later a person finds out that actually it is wrong, it is then extremely difficult to extract himself from his natural habitual course. How different it would be if a parent would direct and encourage their children not to speak negatively. It would entrench a positive habit deep inside them and make choosing the correct speech much easier for them!”3
A friend of mine has gently trained his children that when they come home from school and they want to report what happened, they do so without mentioning names. Even the juiciest piece of gossip is passed on anonymously!
It’s Not Too Late!!
You may be thinking, oh well, I’m not young anymore, it’s too late for me.
Don’t be despondent! It’s never too late!! While it is true that it is easier to create a habit when young, it is still possible for anyone, of any age, to create a habit if they put thought and effort into it. Have you never made a change to your daily routine, adapted your food intake for a diet, gave up a bad habit? Yes at first, until the new behavior is absorbed, it is difficult, but over time it becomes easier and easier until it becomes second nature.
One of the people in our group at JourneyToBetterSpeech.com is a Low Vision Optometrist whose specialty is dealing with people who are losing their central vision through macula degeneration. People who suffer from macula degeneration lose their central vision but still retain their peripheral vision and as it is an age-related condition he is often working with people who are in their 80s and 90s. Many people with the condition will have given up reading so he teaches them how to read again, using their peripheral vision and a special technique known as Steady Eye Strategy.
And it works! Yes it takes time and constant practice, but after a certain period of time, the new strategy of reading, even though it is completely different to the way they have been reading all their lives, becomes their new habit. Eighty and ninety year old people learning a new habit!
So don’t let that voice inside you tell you to give up before you have even started. Let’s all pull ourselves together and start a new habit today!
לע’נ הרב יוסף אליהו בן הרב מנחם יעקב
1. ח”ח הלה’ר כלל ח’,הל’ א, והל’ יג
2. ח”ח הלה’ר כלל ט’,הל’ ה
3. ח”ח הלה’ר כלל ט’,הל’ ה בהגה”ה