The Potion for Life: A Lesson in Eternal Rewards

This week’s Torah reading discusses the process of purification of a Metzora – one who was afflicted with the disease of Tzara’at. One of the sins for which one would be afflicted with Tzra’at is Lashon Hara – Evil Speech. In reference to this, the Medrash on this week’s Torah reading (Vayikra Rabboh 16:2) relates a story. There was once a peddler who announced, “Who wants to buy a potion for life?” Rabbi Yanai heard the announcement and said, “Come sell it to me.” The peddler refused the request and told him, “You don’t need it.” Rabbi Yanai persisted with his request, and the peddler pulled out a Tehillim (book of Psalms) and read the following verses (34:13-14): “Who is the man who wants life; who loves days of seeing good times? Guard your tongue from speaking evil.” Rabbi Yanai was very impressed and said, “All my days I read this verse and I did not know this interpretation!” The obvious question is, what did the peddler say already that Rabbi Yanai didn’t know beforehand? What revelation did Rabbi Yanai see in the peddler’s words which gave new meaning to the verse. On the surface, it would seem like all the peddler did was translate the simple meaning of the verse. What was Rabbi Yanai so excited about?

Guarding the Tongue: A Prescription for Preserving Spiritual Life

The Chida (Rosh Dovid, Tazria) answers that the life the peddler was referring to is one’s eternal life. Eternal life itself is earned through a person’s effort in keeping the Torah. But the peddler was offering a potion for sustaining the eternal life one earns. The peddler was advising people how to preserve their life in the World to Come, to ensure it does not get lost. The peddler was teaching that if one wants to ensure that the eternal life he earns for himself remains intact, he must make sure to avoid slandering others. Because when a person speaks lashon hara about his friend, the merits of the speaker get transferred to the person he spoke about.

The Transfer of Merits and Sins: Understanding the Impact of Lashon Hara

The Chovos Halevavos tells a story (Sha’ar Hakniah, chapter 7) about someone who was slandered, and he sent his offender a nice present as a gift of appreciation. Because if one speaks disparagingly about another person, the person spoken about receives the merits the speaker had accumulated, and that person receives the sins of the person he spoke about. The Chovos Halevavos says that one day, when one goes up to Heaven, he may be surprised to see merits accumulated on his accounts for deeds he didn’t do. And vice versa, a person might be surprised to see sins on his account which he did not commit, while missing merits for deeds he did do. This will be as a result of merits and sins which have transferred between a person who spoke lashon hara about another and the person he spoke about. The Magid Yesharim says that if a person was aware of this, he would rejoice anytime he was slandered as if he won an abundance of gold and silver.

The Unexpected Consequences of Slander: Insights from Rabbi Tzvi Dovid

Rabbi Tzvi Dovid, the head of the Rabbinical court of Krakow at that time, was badmouthed by people and it became the talk at the local taverns. Shortly afterwards, in a speech he had given, he posed the following question: “Why does King David (in Tehillim 69) complain specifically about being slandered by drunkards? Because if it were more upstanding people who slandered him, at least he would benefit from it and it would be worth his while because they would have a lot of merits which would be transferred to him. But now that it’s just a bunch of lowlife drunkards, what good does he have from it?”

The Cost of Lashon Hara: Balancing Temporary Satisfaction with Eternal Loss

This is a frightening concept. The loss of eternal reward which we have earned for ourselves is a tragedy of untold proportions.  If we want to make sure that the reward we earned remains our own, we must take the peddler’s advice seriously. Whatever amount of satisfaction one derives from saying lashon hara, cannot by any means compensate for the loss one incurs from doing so.

By Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber

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