What did you say?

January 24, 2019/TEVES 27, 5780
Candlelighting Time 4:52 PM


Chofetz Chaim poses a very serious question. Since Pharaoh refused to release the nation from bondage, he was subject to a barrage of punishments. The second one was an attack from frogs which invaded every single home in the land. Nothing was off-limits and eventually, Pharaoh conceded defeat, if only temporarily, and begged Moshe to remove them from Egypt. Moshe davened and Hashem took them away. Of course, Pharaoh recanted and still declined to liberate the nation from their bondage. However, the pressing issue is that the people slandered Moshe and Hashem as it is recorded in Bamidbar. They complained that they were hungry and thirsty and even though they had the heavenly bread to eat they weren’t interested. Hashem sent snakes to rebuke them by biting them and some of the people actually died. Finally, the people regretted their defamatory speech and asked Moshe to daven to Hashem. In that instance, Moshe didn’t respond and daven to remove the snakes. Rather, Hashem commanded them to erect a pole and place a snake on top of it. Then the they were to concentrate on that snake and they would become cured! Why didn’t indeed Moshe daven in that situation?

            He explains that the sin of loshon hora, slander, is worse than other transgressions. Other sins that a person commits, Moshe could daven for the nation and Hashem would forgive them. However, when a person’s speech is evil it is the ultimate degradation of the soul. After all, it is the power of speech which separates us from the animal kingdom and when that division is eliminated, so is that distinction! Therefore, we no longer enjoyed Hashem’s sympathy and compassion and even if Moshe would have davened to Hashem to remove the snakes, his prayers would have been ineffective. So terrible is the sin of loshon hora, evil words that harm others.

          However, now the question is that how can we understand that just concentrating on the snake raised up on a pole we can effect such a drastic change that the snakes would disappear even though davening could not help? Perhaps we can suggest that evil speech severs one’s connection with Hashem. Not only is it effacing the supremacy of man over animal, it is exacerbating, as a result, our close relationship with Hashem. We merit that connection due to our status in the creation as the superior handiwork of Hashem. If and when we compromise that position, then Hashem, so to speak, abandons us. However, we have the ability to rehabilitate that relationship and when we do so, depending on the extent of our efforts, we can actually reestablish that link and even perhaps strengthen it if we firmly commit ourselves to only fulfill Hashem’s will.

            That is exactly what was accomplished when the snake was placed on top of the pole. People gazing upon the pole were inclined to raise their eyes to the Heavens and realize that only with full devotion to the Torah and its mitzvos can we achieve in life. Therefore, that was the life-saving technique that was employed to eliminate the snakes that were threatening the people. They repented in the full sense of the word. Therefore, we can gather from this the devastating effect of evil speech and commit ourselves to be always cautious from anything that might even somewhat resemble loshon hora. Our Sages refer to such speech as ‘avak loshon hora’ where the term hints upon a very subtle yet understandably close connection to actual loshon hora. It is our duty to keep our speech clean and by doing so accentuate the positive and ignore the negativity of life.


The reason that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened was because the bondage in Egypt was the prototype exile which was the liberating factor for all future exiles. Therefore, since we were able to escape even from the most horrific exile where its ruler was diametrically opposed to our freedom, then we can leave any exile, no matter what.     S’FAS EMES