Thursday, 22 January 2009

Tikkun Jacob Forum: Gossip, Lies and The Bible (Shmod 5769)

By David Lipschitz, 15th January 2009, Shabbat Shemot 13th Tevet 5769 (16th January 2009)

When one writes an essay which uses the Bible as a reference, and if one is Jewish, then one is always meant to refer to the Parashah or portion of the week that we read each week. This week it is Shmot which is very appropriate to what I wish to write about today because Shmot means "names."

Shmot starts with the names of the 12 sons of Jacob who became the 12 tribes of Israel. One's name is all that one has. For someone to slander that name is unacceptable. For someone else to transmit that slander is more unacceptable. One's name is the most beautiful word in the world. One's name (reputation) takes years to build up and can be erased in minutes through careless banter.

Here are some quotes re gossip ("to talk about the private affairs of others") and lying (I equate the two):
Friedrich Nietzsche: I'm not upset that you lied to me, I'm upset that from now on I can't believe you;
Mark Twain: A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes;
Anonymous: The truth may hurt for a little while a lie hurts forever;
Anonymous: A half-truth is the most cowardly of lies.

According to Wikipedia, a half truth's purpose is: "The purpose and or consequence of a half truth is to make something that is really only a belief appear to be knowledge, or a truthful statement to represent the whole truth, or possibly lead to a false conclusion."

According to Handbook of Reason by Dagobert Runes (1972), Lies are described as follows:
"Truth does not persuade by itself. It is not enough to master the truth. Can you interpret it for others? One faces often in life those who are totally bereft of scruples of logic as well as ethics and are endowed with considerable skills in persuasion. Stalin was fully aware that his comrades in arms were sincere and dedicated revolutionaries, yet in order to gain absolute power over the party and government machinery, he was successful in convincing the Russian people of the opposite and even drove his nation to such a frenzy of hate against the 'traitors' that they massacred the most illustrious Soviet Marxists with unparalleled brutality.
"Truth is a poor adversary of the Great Lie on the tongue of the skillful. For that very reason, this our beaten globe is still in the hands of the glib, not the true. Millions of innocent little people perish every decade, victims of hate-mongering perfidy promulgated by ruthless demagogues, and often even the sincerely liberal hearken to the false tunes of propaganda; the still voice of truth and profundity dies unheard in the wind. The Lie travels decked out with the colorful denunciations supported by shrewdly fostered personality cults, with the Truth is offered by the philosophically minded in her unadorned and uncorrupted verity. Perhaps this is the destined role Truth must play out in all times, done and to come, to be protagonist of the Good in the great turmoil of man's existence.
"Truth is a lonely traveller."

NB: If you ever feel the need to tell someone something that you know is going to hurt them deeply or if you are busy telling them and they ask you to stop and to rather meet in person to discuss it, respect that person and meet them personally. Telling someone extremely bad news which hurts them deeply, eg when it puts into question a very close 12 year old relationship, is something that is malicious to do over the phone. The person receiving the news has no one to talk to. No one to fall back on. No one to comfort them. At least if you are together, you can see what effect your words are having on the receiver and so modify the way you are telling them. Or cancel telling them altogether especially if you know that they are currently weak and already recovering from a recent emotional trauma.

Let us consider the Biblical nature of the problem and show that not committing Lashan Hara ("the bad tongue" called "the evil tongue" in modern parlance"), i.e. slander and gossip is actually a commandment which comes before the first commandment of the 10 commandments.

Adam and Eve are told in the Garden of Eden not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and bad. "Their eyes will surely be opened." "Eve saw that the food was good to eat and shared it with Adam." Please note that what happened in the Garden of Eden is essential for our way of life today. A way of life in which we have choice over our behaviour and actions! But Adam and Eve do eat of the tree and because of this, they get the trait of choice which includes lying (a "half" lie to G-d in this case) (Adam tells G-d that he is naked, not that he ate of the tree which G-d had forbidden him to eat of) and their son Cain telling half-truths "I know not; am I my brother's keeper" in answer to G-d's question about where Abel is. (Cain had murdered Abel). From a Kabbalistic point of view the two traits are known as sacred and profane. You can discuss this with me if you wish.

And so we end up with a number of cases in the Bible of people telling half-truths or trying to hide the truths. Each of these is designed to show us what we should rather do in the situations. Each of these was left in the Bible, when they could easily have been left out, to show us that relationships are difficult and that care is needed to ensure that the mistakes of the past aren't committed in our generation.

Unfortunately our generation is the worst since the Garden of Eden. A photo can be taken of a man and women hugging or kissing hello or goodbye or perhaps holding hands. This photo can instantly be transmitted around the world by cell phone, by sms, by Skype, by Facebook, and by other methods of modern social networking. The photo could say that the couple are in love; it could say they have a secret romance. Even if this is untrue, it is "juicy gossip" and so is transmitted from one gossiper to another. By the time it gets to the third or forth person from the original gossiper, it bears hardly any relationship to the original "truth" and has been embellished with more half-truths or blatant lies.

If the Bible shows what happens when we gossip before the 10 Commandments are expounded, then I argue that gossip is worse than idol worship. Gossip is worse than murder. It is worse than adultery. It is worse than stealing. It contains all three of these negative commandments.

If you gossip, you are stealing the right of the party to a fair direct hearing where the two parties involved resolve their issues directly (you can help them as long as you are with them when you tell this gossip/hearsay). You may be maliciously destroying a relationship. You may be murdering this relationship. You are bowing down to the idol of gossip.

Please don't gossip or tell hearsay. If someone tells you something about a third party and it is positive, then ok, but if it is negative, do not listen to it. Tell that person to tell the third party directly! You are not interested in spreading gossip although you might be interested in helping out directly!

Love,
David

No comments: