Most civilizations have been cultures of the eye. Judaism, with its belief in the invisible God who transcends the universe, and its prohibition against visual representations of God, is supremely a civilization of the ear. . . . Hence, the key verb in Judaism is Shema, “listen.” To give dramatic force to the idea that God is heard, not seen, we cover our eyes with our hand as we say these words. (Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in the Koren Siddur)
In the 29th lesson of Likutei MoHaRaN, Rebbe Nachman speaks of the importance of clean “garments.” On the one hand, he is referring specifically to one’s clothing, while on the other hand he is referring to one’s speech.
“This is the concept of white garments. In other words, speech…corresponds to white garments. For it is necessary to take care of one’s clothing; not to abuse the clothing, but to care for them properly so that no spot or stain gets on them.” --Likutey Moharan, p. 209
Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone. --Colossians 4:6
In a conversation among R. Israel Salanter's disciples, the discussion turned to saintly individuals whose influence extends on high. One of the disciples told about a certain tzaddik who had been offended by the remarks some individuals had directed at him. The tzaddik retorted sharply and cursed them. The curse was fulfilled to the letter. R. Israel was not surprised by the incident itself, but observed in his own telling style: "Someone who had reached so elevated a stature that his words can take effect, should exercise the utmost caution to guard his tongue and lips, so as not to utter anything evil, since he can easily become a damaging agent, for what difference does it make whether one damages with his hands or with the whiplash of his tongue, smiting his neighbor in secret with the force of a Heavenly decree?" —From The Mussar Movement, Volume 1, part 2, page 212
Yaakov’s short letter is loaded with instructions regarding proper speech. Yaakov reminds us that we oughtn’t swear by anything, but let “yes” and “no” suffice (). He instructs us to not judge others with our words (-12). He warns us to not speak as if we know our future (-16). Yaakov speaks eloquently about the power of speech and the difficulty people have in controlling their tongues. He explains that one's mouth shouldn’t be able to both speak praise of God and evil against people – this is deep hypocrisy (3:1-12). In the beginning of his letter, Yaakov speaks of the value of silence:
“Come, my children, listen to me, and I will teach you to fear Hashem. Who is the man who desires life, to love each day and see only goodness in them? Let him then guard his tongue from speaking evil and his lips from speaking deceit. Turn away from evil and do what is good, desire peace and pursue it.” — Psalm 34
A famous Chasidic story illustrates the extent of the damage that Lashon HaRa can do: A man went about gossiping and telling malicious stories without restraint. Later, when he realized how much his tales had hurt people, and began to feel remorse. He went to the Rabbi seeking repentance, saying he would do anything he could to make amends. The Rabbi told the man, “Take a feather pillow, cut it open, and scatter the feathers into the wind.” The man thought this was a bizarre request, but it was simple enough, and so he did it. When he returned to inform the rabbi that the task was done, the Rabbi said, “Now, go and collect all the feathers and return them to the pillow.” Again, the man went to do as the rabbi had asked, but found that the feathers had blown far and wide, and he was unable to retrieve even a handful. He returned to the rabbi, ashamed to admit he was not able to gather the feathers, certain that he should never have released the feathers in the first place. Knowingly, the rabbi rebuked him, saying, “Your words are like the feathers: once they leave your mouth, you know not where they will go, and you can never retrieve them back again. It is always wiser to guard your tongue and keep your words to yourself.”
Shimon ben Gamliel said: I have grown up among the Sages all my days, yet I have never found anything better for a person than silence. Study [of Torah] is not the main thing, but the doing [of Torah] is. And all who speak too much bring on sin. —Avot 1:17
An encrypted cache of uncensored documents that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has circulated across the Internet may ensure that a huge array of secrets will be revealed even if the website is shut down or Assange is arrested. — online news 12/4/2010
It’s strange to say, but unfortunately the spiritual disease of tzara’at does not exist today. Life might be a little easier if we had a physical barometer of how well our soul is connected to others and to the Divine. Once we see the physical signs we could get some help, repair, restore, and reconnect. Today our purity of soul is much more difficult to measure so we must be proactive in it’s care.