In parshat Shemot, we read1 that Moses struck down an Egyptian taskmaster who was beating a Jewish slave and subsequently hid him in the sand, thinking that nobody would know of his action. The next day, he saw two Jews (Datan and Aviram)2quarreling and one raised his hand to hit the other. Moses said to him, "Why do you strike your friend?3 The man retorted, "Who appointed you as a leader and judge over us, do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?!"4 Moses was afraid, and he said, "So the fact is known."5

The Midrash6 tells us that Moses said, "You have lashon hara (evil speech) in your midst; how are you worthy of redemption?"

It seems that Moses felt that lashon hara alone was enough to hold off the redemption from Egypt.

Our sages7 compare lashon hara to some of the worst sins, ranging from denying G‑d's existence, to the big three: idolatry, adultery and murder.

However, we know that among those that left Egypt, there were idolaters,8 so that didn't stop the redemption. So we must understand, what is it about lashon hara that is so egregious that it alone could hold up the Exodus?

When it comes to war, we see a similar differentiation. The Talmud Yerushalmi9 tells us that "David's generation were all tzadikim (righteous), but because they had informers, they would go out to war and fall [in battle]. Ahab's generation were idolaters, but because they didn't have informers, they would go down to war and be victorious." What we see from this is that when it comes to war, unity and peacefulness brings victory. However, we still have to understand: what is it about lashon hara that holds up redemption?

Rashi10 provides an alternative explanation to the words, "So the fact is known," from the Midrash,11 that Moses was saying, now he knows why they are in exile. In other words, not only does lashon hara hold back the redemption, but it is also the reason for the exile.

The words of Datan and Aviram to Moses were far worse than lashon hara; they were threatening to inform on him to the Pharaoh, which they did. Informing, in this case, is much worse than plain lashon hara. But from the Midrash and Rashi, it seems that Moses wasn't as bothered by that as he was by the lashon hara. Why is lashon hara worse?

With the redemption from Egypt we became a nation of our own, as it says about the Exodus that G‑d took for himself "a nation from within [another] nation."12 The defining factor of a nation is that the people are united.

The Rambam13 calls the Jewish people a nation even before the Exodus, referring to what makes every nation a nation, that they are united with common ideals and purpose. The problem with this is that, when their ideals change or their purpose becomes irrelevant, they lose their identity as a people. He explains that being the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, whose purpose was to teach the world about G‑d, we were "a people that knew G‑d". That was our ideal and our identity as a nation. However, the Rambam continues to say that in Egypt many were influenced and entrenched in the Egyptian culture. He concludes that "out of G‑d's love for us, and to keep the promise he made to Abraham our forefather ... G‑d chose Israel as his nachalah [portion] . . ."

From the last words of the Rambam, it becomes clear what the difference is between the kind of nation we were before the Exodus and after the Exodus. In Egypt, we were united under a common ideal, but G‑d took us out of Egypt because He chose us. We became a nation based on something greater than any human ideal. We are united because G‑d chose us to be his nachalah. What is a nachalah?

A nachalah refers to the portion of land that was given to the Jewish people upon conquering the land after the Exodus. By law, the portion of land that was given to a family was to stay in the family forever. When G‑d chose us to be his nachalah, it meant that we became His nation forever. This uniting factor, being from G‑d, is not subject to change.

True choice is not based on the items being chosen, but on the one who is choosing. If it is based on the items, one will always choose the one he thinks is better. That is not true choice. It is called being smart. However, when the items are exactly the same, and he chooses one, that is true choice.

When G‑d chooses, it is always true choice. He chose us, the Jewish people, as His nation. That includes all of us, from the most righteous to the least. That is why even idolaters went out of Egypt, because they were also part of the nation that G‑d chose. The only thing is that we had to be united, because if we were not, there would be no nation for G‑d to choose. So the only thing that would hold up the redemption is disunity.

There are several negative aspects of lashon hara.

The first is the damage it does, as "the sages say, 'lashon hara kills three: the one spoken about, the listener and the speaker.’ ”14

Beyond the fact that negative speech was exchanged and made known, there is bad it brings out in the person who is spoken about, because, until it was said, it was hidden.

These two aspects are destructive and hurtful, but like other sins, they don't breed disunity.

But there is a third dimension, and that is lashon hara itself. Even if the person speaking has no intention to cause damage, or to tell of the negative aspects of his friend, and even if he doesn't speak out of hate, the mere fact that someone talks badly of another shows that there is disunity. And, as mentioned earlier, when there is disunity, there is no nation for G‑d to choose, and by extension, there is no redemption.

Now we can understand why lashon hara is so bad, and why it bothered Moses so much. It was because it itself could hold up the redemption.15

This will help us understand why at the Seder, one of the four sons is the wicked son. One may ask: why include the wicked son? The answer is that without him, we aren't complete and there is no nation to redeem.16

The unity of the Jewish people is what caused the redemption from Egypt, and it is the same unity that will bring the future redemption. May it come soon.