Classics and Beyond Vayeishev-Lashon Hora & the Pure Speech Of Yo

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    Classics and Beyond Vayeishev — Lashon Hora and the Deliberate Pure Speech Of Yosef

    By: Rabbi Avraham Bukspan

    אלה תלדות יעקב יוסף בן שבע עשרה שנה היה רעה את אחיו בצאן והוא נער את בני בלהה ואת בני

    זלפה נשי אביו ויבא יוסף את דבתם רעה אל אביהם

    These are the offspring of Yaakov: Yosef, at the age of seventeen years, was a shepherd with his brothers by the flock, and he was a youth with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Yosef would bring evil reports of them to their father (Bereishis 37:2).

    Three questions present themselves: First, what is gained by the Torah identifying Yosef as a “naar,” a young and perhaps foolish boy? Second, the Torah writes that Yosef brought evil reports about his brothers to his father; would it not be simpler and more natural to say that he told his father about his brothers? Third, why does the Torah say that Yosef brought the information to their father, rather than saying that he brought it to his father (as it says earlier, “nshei aviv — the wives of his father”)?

    In Afikei Yam (Vol.2, just before the table of contents), Rav Yechiel Michel Rabinowitz explains that the pasuk is coming to show us the righteousness of Yosef, that he had no intention of besmirching his brothers, even as he felt the need to inform on them — for their own sake, so they could improve their ways.

    In Chofetz Chaim (Hilchos Lashon Hara 10:2), Rav Yisrael Meir Kagan writes that if you see another person behaving in a way that is incorrect, and you want to notify the individual’s parent or teacher so that they can reprove him and help him do teshuvah, seven conditions must first be met.

    Included in the seven: You must first try to reprove the person on your own, without sharing the information with anyone else. Only if rebuke is unsuccessful, or if you know it will be futile, are you allowed to take it up with a higher authority. In addition, when you relay the information, you must do so in the most precise manner, with no embellishments that may magnify the offense. Also, your intent must be le’toeles, for the good of the person being discussed, with no intent of deriving any personal pleasure when discussing the issue.

    Let us now return to the pesukim and see the care Yosef took when speaking about his brothers.

    The pasuk starts by identifying Yosef as a “naar,” a youth. This explains why Yosef went directly to his father and did not try to reprove his brothers first. As the Chofetz Chaim states, if you know that rebuking the guilty party will not yield results, then you can discuss the issue with someone whose rebuke will help. Yosef had seen the disrespect that the sons of Leah displayed toward the children of the pilagshim, Bilhah and Zilpah, and he felt his father should know about it. Yet, as the Malbim (ad loc.) explains, Yosef often served as the “naar,” the servant boy, of Bilhah and Zilpah’s sons. He reasoned that if even the sons of the pilagshim were disrespected by the other shevatim, as the naar, the servant of the sons of the maids, he would never be given a fair hearing from the other brothers. He therefore had no choice but to take it up with their father.

    The Torah then writes that he brought the evil report, rather than that he told the evil report. This conveys the notion that he said his piece in the most cursory form, without adding any extra words, much as a mailman brings an item — exactly as it was packed, with no additions or embellishments; when telling his father about his brothers’ deeds, Yosef added none of his own commentary. This is in line with the second condition we mentioned from the Chofetz Chaim, that when speaking lashon hara for a constructive purpose, you must not add any commentary or embellishment.

    Finally, the pasuk is teaching us that Yosef’s intent was pure, for his brothers’ sake, so that their father — as seen from the words “el avihem” — would be appraised of their misbehavior and could make attempts at their rehabilitation. As Yosef transmitted the events to Yaakov, he had no thought of using this to curry more favor or love from his father: “See, I am the good son; I am the tzaddik!” As such, he wanted to remain as low-key as possible, as if Yaakov was only their father, not his.

    Despite Yosef’s good intentions, and despite the fact that we have no right to judge him or any of the tzaddikim in the Torah, we know that the Torah faults him for speaking against his brothers, and that he did receive retribution for what to him was considered a sin.
    When Yaakov’s sons sent Yosef’s coat dipped in goat’s blood to Yaakov, to “prove” that Yosef had been killed, Yaakov recognized the coat and exclaimed (37:33), “Chayah ra’ah achalas’hu — An evil beast devoured him!” Rashi writes that Yaakov was unconsciously alluding to the future, in which Yosef was going to be provoked by the wife of Potiphar.

    My father suggested that the words “Chayah ra’ah achalas’hu” hearken back to Parashas Bereishis (2:7), at the time of the creation of Adam. There, the Torah says, “Vayehi ha’adam le’nefesh chayah — And man became a living thing.” Onkelos translates “nefesh chayah” as “ruach memalela,” a speaking spirit. So we see that the word “chayah” can allude to speech.

    Back to our pasuk. Instead of translating “chayah ra’ah,” as the evil beast that devoured Yosef, we can translate it as the evil speech, the lashon hara he spoke, which consumed him, causing the sorry fate he was forced to endure.

    In many ways, though, evil speech really is an evil beast.

    Reb Eliezer

    The Kli Yakar explains ויבא יוסף את ‘דבתם’ רעה אל אביהם and Yosef brought the shevatim’s bad speech to his father, what they spoke on the sons of the shafochos. The mouth is like a double edged sword, חרב פיפיות, which can be used for good or bad. The Binah Leitim compares this to a king who rewarded his servant with a special sword to serve the king, so what arrogance it would be to use this sword against the king. Hashem gave us a mouth to serve Him and then we use it against Him. The Kli Yakar compares the sound of the burning bush to the whisper of gossip which contributed to the extension of time spent in Mitzraim.

    Reb Eliezer

    With this the Binah Leitim interprets the statement in Pirkei Avos, חיה רעה בא לעולם על שבועת שוא a wild animal comes to the world when swearing falsely. Asks the above, doesn’t a wild animal exist already on the world? He says that one who uses his mouth improperly turns himself into a wild animal.

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