What’s the one sin that everyone is guilty of?
Not lashon harah (gossiping)
Give up? The answer is (drumroll please!)…..Avak lashon harah- the ‘dust’ of lashon harah’*, speech which aren’t derogatory in and of themselves, but are given in a derogatory fashion**. For example, if a wife were to say that her husband was “always out helping other people”, putting the stress on the “other” and rolling her eyes, the unspoken words are obviously: but too busy for me, his wife.
“He has his door open 24/7” could either mean that your neighbour opens his home to those in need, or that he parties’ day and night, has friends over who block your driveway, and he keeps the whole street awake at night with his parties. Again, it all depends on how it is given over.
And even those who are careful not to belittle others can let slip from time to time.
The first word of the book of Devarim is אלה, which is usually translated as ‘these’. We understand the beginning of the verse to say ‘And these were the words that Moshe spoke to all of the children of Israel’
The Megaleh Amukot understands that the word אלה in this context is an abbreviation of the words אבק לשון הרע- Avak Lashon Harah. His reading is ‘And (the topic of) Avak Lashon Harah were the words that Moshe spoke to all of the children of Israel. This understanding explains why the Torah had to point out that Moshe was speaking to all of the Jews. Moshe was telling us that no one is immune to this terrible sin.
Keep in mind that this was the very beginning of Moshe’s final series of lessons, in which he would review the entire Torah with the Jews. Remarkably, he begins by talking about a concept that pertains not to matters between man and Hashem, but to interpersonal relationships. As if to say that the entire Torah is underpinned by our relationships with each other!
One of the great sages to champion this view was Hillel the Elder. The Talmud relates that on one occasion, when approached by a gentile and asked to teach him the whole Torah on one foot, Hillel famously replied “What you wouldn’t want done to yourself, don’t do to others. The rest is commentary”.
Parshas Devarim is read during the days leading up to the 9th Av, the anniversary of the destruction of both the first and second Temples. All the persecution, pain and suffering that we have endured over the last 2,000 years of exile began on that fateful day. We are taught that our current exile was brought on by our own baseless hatred for each other. And as much as we may be sick of hearing the same thing year after year, there really is no other way to show Hashem that we are ready to go home.
Once and for all, let’s put our different dress modes and outlooks firmly aside and show Hashem that we have finally learnt to respect each other. And who knows, this year the 9th Av may well become a celebrated day the likes of which the world has never seen before!
*= See Bava Basra 165a
**= As explained in Sefer Shemiras Haloshon