Things were going well. Or so I thought, until I hit rock bottom. Feelings of depression and anxiety, and my father’s battle with cancer, left me raw, vulnerable and exposed. So I went to a mentor, and learned all about the broken places inside of me in need of healing.

Thinking about gossip was not at the top of my agenda for healing myself. And yet, I'm here to tell you that you don't necessarily need to spend a fortune on therapy to find healing.

Things were going well. Or so I thought...

I learned about the Chofetz Chaim when a religious friend of mine told me she had been studying his seminal work on the laws of speech and that it had brought her blessing. Enough said! We selected a book called A Lesson A Day, which is based on the work of the Chofetz Chaim, and set aside a few nights a week for our phone chavruta (learning session).

A Lesson A Day discusses the appropriate manner in which to speak with and about others. Whether you are interacting with a business partner or your children, or you are setting a couple up on a date, the Chofetz Chaim outlines what may or may not be revealed to the parties involved. While the scope of the text is vast, here I will focus in on a few points that led to some AHA! moments for me.

It's not about the proverbial water cooler

Lashon hara (“evil talk”) is defined as information that is either derogatory or potentially harmful to another individual . . . be it financial, physical, psychological or otherwise . . .”

Gossiping appears to be utterly harmless, doesn't it? What's the big deal? My friends and I are only discussing a mutual friend because "we care." Laughing about a coworker helps me fit in at work. Placing blame on another family member absolves me of any guilt, and anyways, it's her fault for driving me crazy. I've got to vent to someone, right!?! Need I go on?

The brilliance of the Chofetz Chaim is in his understanding that the seeming triviality of the words and language we use is a reflection of our innermost self.

I heard a radio show hosted by the Jewish motivational speaker and lecturer, Charlie Harary. The show explored the core of why we criticize others. The take-away for me was the concept that one’s negativity is an attempt to heal one’s own pain; particularly, when the negative feedback is given in a harsh or cruel manner and lacking in the more "constructive" elements.

For example, I remember when a certain television personality gave birth; the news outlets ripped her to shreds for her appearance. Did she really go outside without makeup? How about that outfit? When is she going to lose the baby weight already? My instinctive thought was, Oh yeah, she does look bad!

Let's wake up! This is a woman like you or me, or like your sister, your mother, your neighbor, your friend, your daughter. Do you really believe that we can rip apart another person and not feel the ramifications? We shoot the gun at another person, not realizing that the bullets are aimed at us. Do you not see the joy in the new mother's eyes because you are too focused on her makeup or lack thereof? Are we really that insecure?

I now choose to use words that are nourishing to myself and others. Words of inspiration, personal growth, lauding other’s achievements, words that aim to bring us to higher terrain as a community. I have come to realize that when negativity is expressed, via any channel, the reverberations are always felt in one's soul.


“The speaker must be certain that his sole intent is l’toelet, for a constructive purpose.”

Never lose sight of the intention behind your words. Why would we speak negatively about others if not to validate ourselves? Who has a bigger house, a nicer car, a better spouse and kids? Is it ever enough? Are we ever enough? Ultimately, it is the speaker of negative speech who becomes trapped by the constant cycle of comparison.

The Chofetz Chaim teaches us about the power of division—both a division within one’s self and from others. When we talk about others, we lose sight of who we are. In thinking about the intention behind our speech, we learn to relinquish the ego, the false sense of “I” and the image we present to other people by focusing on our own intentions and character development.

We learn to relinquish the ego

“An important area of speech which is considered constructive is that which helps to relieve someone of psychological or emotional damage caused by others.”

When we want to help someone, we bring the casserole to the shiva call, listen to a friend in need, watch the neighbor's kids, introduce potential business partners, invite the lonely to our home for a Shabbat meal. These are ways we express kindness, care and protection of others. It is only when we feel our innate power, worth and G‑dliness that we can give freely. The moments when we truly help people are quiet whispers of love. Love does not happen in the boisterous sounds of assessing the people close to us.


“Turn from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it.”

The laws of gossip are not about restrictions—you can't say this, you can’t say that. At their core, the laws of gossip are about peace.

“It is permissible to speak negatively about a person: to help the person or to help anyone victimized by the person, or to resolve major disputes . . .”

The Chofetz Chaim teaches us the power of our speech on our own reality: speak kindly about others, and you'll speak about yourself kindly. Keep your relationships peaceful, and you will become a vessel of peace. Prevent conflict and drama, and there will be calm within you. Stop gauging who has more money than you do, who has more negative traits than you do, who is more or less religious. Learn to speak in a constructive fashion, words that seek to mend and protect, and you will become the words that you speak.

Stop measuring up and start stepping up

“Speaking lashon hara is contrary to man’s exalted status as the only creature who was fashioned b’tzelem Elokim, the the Divine image . . .”

If I know who I am—my path, my mission, my areas of strength and my challenge, wherever I started in life or however much farther I need to go—I can stand proud. The more we take our own lives seriously, the less time there is to spend discussing others. Even deeper, there is no longer a desire to talk about others, because the focus shifts to personal growth.

I started from the outside in—focusing on my speech—and my soul began to heal.

Will I create animosity or jealousy with my words?

These days, I consider the following before speaking: Will what I have to say fuel the fire of conflict? Will I create animosity or jealousy with my words? Am I temporarily alleviating my own struggles by knocking others down? Or will my words brighten another's day? Will I stand up to speak out and protect others? Will I bring dignity and respect to myself and others?

May the laws of speech remove all forms of division from within us and from outside us. May we find peace and wholeness through words, the gift of creation that we, created in the image of G‑d, have been given. Amen.

The article is dedicated to my Bubby and Zaidey, Chaya Rifka bat Yitzchak Isaac and Zvi Zalmen ben Yosef, of blessed memory.