Words Are Weapons

Teens have the tools to prevent the spread of lashon hara.

Imagine if there were never any rules. This means no parents nagging you to clean your room and nobody pressuring you to stop watching television late at night. This also means one can do anything they wish such as stealing and committing violent crimes without any fear. If there were no constraints placed on behavior, the structure of society would diminish to such a low extent that people would have trouble just getting through one day.

Jews have an obligation to live by numerous rules from the Torah. The Torah governs our actions and words. Words are essentially a set of important rules that we live by. Words impact society in a positive or negative way. For example, when someone says nice things everyone around them listens and begins to think positive things about the person speaking and the person being spoken about.

One major rule that most Jews do not keep is the prohibition against lashon hara, speaking badly of another person. However, lashon hara is not only speaking badly of another person; speaking nicely about someone can also be considered lashon hara because someone else may not agree with a compliment and will then voice their negative opinion. Then the person who initially spoke has transgressed the commandment to not speak lashon hara by causing another Jew to sin. This is one thing that many people, including myself, need to work on.

Rumors are essentially one of the worst aspects of lashon hara because rumors are words being spread that aren’t true. In Vayikra, the Torah states, “lo telech rachil b’amecha.” This means “a peddlar should not walk amidst my nation.” We should not walk around spreading rumors as a peddlar walks around selling goods. 

There are also ethical explanations as to why lashon hara is prohibited. One of the major reasons is because it doesn’t cause one party damage, but three parties — the person who speaks, the person who listens and the person being spoken about.

One way teenagers spread rumors is through online sources such as facebook. I’m not saying that facebook is a negative thing. Facebook is a great way to keep in touch with friends however, when online sites are used for the wrong purpose, a great amount of damage can be inflicted.

For example, one student at my school posted on facebook that a girl at school was selfish because she spoke to a student that she (the person who posted it) personally dislikes. Not only is this student spreading rumors, but everything she just posted is shared with an entire community of people. This can cause a person to lose a good reputation and social status. In this case, it caused the person that the entire argument was about to become angry. Then the girl who was disliked began to feel more disdain for the person who posted this lashon hara.

The trouble does not stop there. Even after someone deletes a post, the damage is done. This means that any of one’s friends that were online while the post was publicized had the possibility of reading it. These people may believe the post even if it wasn’t true and they can spread the message to other people. Soon a whole new reality television show is occurring in front of everybody’s eyes. People begin to take sides and no person benefits from the outcome.

Teenagers may not recognize how our behavior can really impact other people’s lives in a positive or a negative way. Take the responsibility when online to make sure that what you type is not hurtful.

Words can potentially be a weapon. Teens have the tools to prevent spreading lashon hara and by utilizing the positive ways in which we can use our words, we have the ability to make the world a better and happier place.

Dalia Cohen  is a sophomore at Sage Day High School in Rochelle Park, N.J.

This article is reprinted from October 30, 2009.