Photo Credit: Jewish Press

In this week’s parshah, we read, “V’yamusu ha’anashim motzi’ei dibas ha’aretz ra’ah bamageifah lifnei Hashem – The men who brought back the evil report on the land died of the plague by the will of Hashem.”

The Gemara (Arachin 15a) presents a kal v’chomer: If speaking against wood and stones (the Land of Israel) elicited such a harsh punishment, imagine how severe the retribution will be for speaking ill of others.

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We learned recently in Daf Yomi that when Moshe Rabbeinu was in heaven, he successfully explained to the angels why the Torah rightfully should be given to the Jewish people. In gratitude for his explanation, the angels gave Moshe Rabbeinu gifts. The Gemara reveals that the Malach HaMaves, the Angel of Death, also gave Moshe Rabbeinu a gift: He taught Moshe that ketores halts a plague. Elsewhere we are taught that the ketores atones specifically for the sin of lashon hara.

Thus, once again we see the connection between lashon hara and plagues. We therefore have to be very mindful of the lashon hara pitfalls and traps that the yeitzer hara cleverly sets for us during this pandemic.

Here are some examples of what people might be inclined to say during this time: “I can’t believe it! Look at him. We’ve just come back to shul after 14 weeks and he’s already talking during davening. Didn’t he learn anything from all of this?” Or, “I feel so bad for Chaim’s wife. He’s so OCD about the virus that he won’t even let her go out for a breath of fresh air.”

Or what about this?: “Did you see those chassidim dancing at a wedding without masks and social distancing? What a chillul Hashem!” Or how about this?: “Yeah, Yankle didn’t even come back to shul yet. He enjoys sunning on his porch. We’ll never get him back. This is perfect for his lazy personality.”

Or, “Did you notice that Shmuel only comes to Shacharis on Shabbos? The rest of the time he’s at home. If it’s safe enough for him to come in the morning, why isn’t he by the rest of the prayers? Well, he always looked for excuses to stay home and now he thinks he can get away with it.”

Here’s another one: “Could you believe that they’re just frolicking in Florida while so many of us lost our jobs and don’t even have food on our tables.”

Let’s remember two things. First, it’s lashon hara even if it’s true. If we have an ax to grind with chassidim or with Lakewood, that doesn’t give us a free pass to talk about other people. The only time we can do so is if what we wish to say meets the seven conditions laid out by the Chofetz Chaim for when we are allowed to speak lashon hara l’to’eles (for a constructive purpose).

Second, there is an awful lot of confusion about masks, social distancing, antibodies, etc. We should certainly protect ourselves and follow governmental regulations. At the same time let’s understand the implication of the Malach HaMaves’s gift and be very careful not to talk lashon hara if we wish this pandemic to end.

In the merit of guarding our lips from speaking evil, may Hashem bless us with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.

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Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss is rav of the Agudath Yisroel of Staten Island. A popular writer and lecturer his Torah column appears weekly in The Jewish Press. Learn mishnayos with Rabbi Weiss by dialing 718-906-6471 or Orchos Chaim l’HaRosh by dialing 718-906-6400 (selection 4 twice). To engage Rabbi Weiss as a lecturer or to order his “Power Bentching,” call 718-916-3100 or e-mail RMMWSI@aol.com. To receive a weekly tape or CD from him, send a check to Rabbi Weiss, P.O. Box 140726, Staten Island, NY 10314, or e-mail him. Attend Rabbi Weiss’s weekly shiur at the Landau Shul (Avenue L and East 9th), Tuesday nights, at 9:30 p.m. Some of his shiurim are available on his Facebook page and TorahAnyTime.com. Sheldon Zeitlin transcribes his articles.