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A Jew and His Words

Reflections is sponsored in celebration of the aufruf of Avraham David Stern . May the wonderful Stern Mishpacha only know nachas and may Avraham David and Chani build a beautiful bayis ne'eman together!

 

The Torah dedicates a unique term[1] for the one who spreads gossip [Vayikra, 19:17].

 

Lo telech rachil b'amecha  - Do not be a tale-bearer among your people. You shall not stand idly by [when] the blood (life) of your fellow [is in danger]. I am Ad-noy.

 

The word is rachil and its closest [Biblical/Mishnaic] analog is rochel, [merchant[2]]. Our commentaries struggle to understand the simple meaning of the word rachil and its connection to the act of gossip. We also seek to understand the apparently random connection between the 1st part of the verse and the 2nd section [do not stand idly by...]

 

First, please note  that the rachil is different than the lashon hara speaker in that he does not make up the story - he cross-pollinates, i.e. he spreads the word.  

 

Now, we present Rashi's novel derivative :

 

I say that [that the word rachil refers to tale-bearing because all those who cause arguments and speak slander go to their friends' houses to spy what evil they can see, or whatever evil they can hear, to tell it in the marketplace, [thus] they are called "those who go around tale-bearing"- those who go around spying,

 

The word spy [merageil] derives from regel - [as in using one's feet to get to the place to find out]. How does  that connect to the word rachil?

 

 I say that the expression rachil [means] "going about and spying," since the kof interchanges with the gimmel, for all letters whose source is one place [In the mouth or throat. ] interchange one with the other: beis with peih, gimmel with kof and kuf , nun with lammed, and zayin with tzaddi,

 

Words that connect through interchangeable letters bind the spy and the merchant - but wherein lay the logical connection?

 

The  rochel  , "a peddler," who travels and spies out merchandise, [and so [too] one who sells spices [to women] with which to adorn themselves, because he constantly goes around villages--- is called a rochel denoting who is merageil ["one who spies. ]

 

The gossiper is like the Biblical merchant in that he is constantly collecting goods, he deals in gossip and he is constantly looking for frsh produce. Indeed , this appears to be Rambam's emphasis as well: [Deios 7:1-2]

 

המרגל בחבירו עובר בלא תעשה שנאמר לא תלך רכיל בעמיך, ואע"פ שאין לוקין על דבר זה עון גדול הוא וגורם להרוג נפשות רבות מישראל, לכך נסמך לו ולא תעמוד על דם רעך, צא ולמד מה אירע לדואג האדומי.  אי זהו רכיל זה שטוען דברים והולך מזה לזה ואומר כך אמר פלוני כך וכך שמעתי על פלוני אע"פ שהוא אמת הרי זה מחריב את העולם

A person who collects gossip about a colleague violates a prohibition as [Leviticus 19:16] states: "Do not go around gossiping among your people." Even though this transgression is not punished by lashes, it is a severe sin and can cause the death of many Jews.

 

Rambam [and Ibn Ezra] successfully forge the connection between the 2 pieces of the pasuk:  

Therefore, [the warning]: "Do not stand still over your neighbor's blood" is placed next to it in the Torah [ibid.]. See what happened [because of] Doeg, the Edomite.  

 

Ramban, however rejects Rashi's regel connection and finds  a different basis of comparison between the peddler and gossiper:

 

In Hebrew they called the gossiper those who walk as a peddler [ "the powder of the rochel"] - for the rochel walks the whole day and buys from here and there and sells to other places as the rabbis teach of the peddler who sells goes around to the cities and thus the text says " in your nation" [for it is his way to go amongst the masses]

 

For Ramban, the rachil is like the rochel in that he peddles: the rochel deals in items and the rachil peddles words. Ramban's focus is not the digging, but the spreading.

 

One might add that it is not simply the spreading that defines the rachil: it is the almost business like pursuit upon which the gossiper is focused upon his trade. His systematic goal to spread ill will and muck and he is very professional in his efforts and tactics. He might have a few blogs [with Hebrew writing] and leave a few choice comments; he is pernicious and effective.

 

One final step - a Ramban gem, brings it home. Ramban wonders why the rochel, the merchant is in the verb[3] [turned noun (gerund) form while the rachil is cast as the adjective[4] turned noun:

 

To distinguish between the two, [the merchant and the gossiper], the merchant is the verb and the gossiperis  the adjective ...the name hints that it is in his soul and to it he shall return

 

The merchant does sales, that is his parnasa; the gossiper finds and spreads lashon hara - that is his life. It is not simply a vocation, it is nebach an essential definition- a distorted life's calling[5].

 

In a muckraking, yellow journalist, scandal a minute world, we must remind ourselves and our children/students of world of the pristine Jewish mouth and the higher ethic of shemiras halashon - a world where words elevate, conversations ennoble and speech confirms our Tzelem Elokim [our Divine image, cf. Onkelos, Bereishis 1]

 

Good Shabbos, Asher Brander


 

[1] The word appears only once in Chumash , twice in Mishlei and Yirmiyahu and once in Yechezkel

[2] Cf. Shir Hashirim [3:6]

[3] e.g. holech, ochel 

[4] E.g. mahir, nazir

[5] Cf. Rambam [Deios, 7] who seems to distinguish between the one who speaks lashon hara and the master of lashon-hara:

 Good Shabbos

Asher Brander             


 
   
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