Towards the end of this week's Torah portion we read that Miriam, Moses' older sister, was punished with tzara'at (a skin disease commonly mistranslated as leprosy) for speaking negatively about Moses. After the divine revelation at Mount Sinai, Moses separated from his wife Zipporah. Unaware that Moses had received G‑d's consent for this action, Miriam expressed her disapproved to their brother Aaron. Although Miriam intended no harm, she was guilty of speaking lashon hara (evil gossip), especially unbefitting a woman of her spiritual stature.

Lashon hara does much harm and tears asunder families and friendships. The gravity of the sin is demonstrated by the fact that the Talmud reckons "consistent lashon hara speakers" as a group that will not merit greeting the Shechinah (Divine Presence)! Thankfully, lashon hara awareness has increased in the last few decades, largely influenced by the passionate writings of the "Chafetz Chaim" (Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan, 1838-1933) on the subject.

Thankfully, lashon hara awareness has increased in the last few decadesThere are two ways to approach this mitzvah. The simple method is abstinence and self-discipline. The natural temptation to indulge in gossip must be quelled. This is a difficult task because the struggle is ongoing and constant, but ultimately the mind can and must control the desires of the heart.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the "Alter Rebbe," offers an alternative approach:

"Therefore, my beloved and dear ones, I beg again and again that each of you exert himself with all his heart and soul to firmly implant in his heart a love for his fellow. And, in the words of Scripture1 “let none of you consider in your heart what is evil for his fellow.” Moreover, [such a consideration] should never arise in one’s heart [in the first place]; and if it does arise, one should push it away from his heart “as smoke is driven away,” as if it were an actual idolatrous thought. For to speak evil [of another] is as grave as idolatry and incest and bloodshed.2 And if this be so with speech, [then surely thinking evil about another is even worse]; for all the wise of heart are aware of the greater impact [on the soul] of thought over speech!"3

Someone who exerts self-control over his speech is constantly involved in (fighting) negativity – "I can't say this, I shouldn't relate that, etc." Such a person is doing a great good by not conveying his negative feelings to others, but his heart is not yet a sanctuary for G‑dliness. On the other hand, a person who works to really respect every individual and eradicates all negativity from his heart becomes a naturally loving person. Instead of fighting the darkness, he is expelling it through shining a light in his heart.