All Words Matter

All Words Matter

There is a halacha called onas devarim – hurting with words. We are not allowed to hurt others with our words. Now, we all know that lashon hara is prohibited. That is, we can’t speak badly about other people absent some very specific and limited exceptions. Contrary to common practice among otherwise good people, those specific exceptions do not allow negative speech just because it is true. Nor is there an exception for talking badly about people because I, in my infinite wisdom, think the other person is “cute” or “bad”. Put another way, you don’t get to tell embarrassing or negative stories about your family members because you are angry or because the stories are cute. And lashon hara applies to kids, grandkids, parents, everyone.

Yes, even spouses. Many times Brachie and I are appalled to hear one spouse or the other say to us: “Ask the kids. We talked about what my spouse did and they agree with me.” There is a lot wrong with that. The children are caught between the parents. They become the arbitrators of right and wrong. They look down on the “wrong” parent or both. There simply is no excuse.

We have sat at lunches with other couples where one spouse tells a story which is critical or embarrassing about their spouse. Such behavior is a gross betrayal of trust of someone you love.

Similarly, a husband said to me the other day, “You know I spoke to my parents about my marriage and they don’t think I have any marriage at all.” And he proceeded to tell me all the problems his parents found in his marriage based on the things he told his parents. Really? Now that man has two problems-a troubled marriage and parents who are against his wife. And, here is the bigger problem-as the marriage gets better and it is, he will need to convince his parents to like the wife again. Not an easy thing.

But the prohibition of hurting with words goes far beyond the prohibition of telling tales. (By the way, “telling tales”. Doesn’t that sound so innocuous? It sounds like a story about cute little bunny rabbits or the little train that could or the little red lighthouse.  How about calling it what it really is-hurting the reputation of someone we claim to love or care for? The Hebrew really is much better. Lashon hara-evil speech. It is evil).

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