The Lonely Punishment

Friday, 16 April, 2021 - 7:01 am

Ask anyone who has been wrongly accused of a crime whether they ever got their good reputation back. Their consistent responses underscore the great harm of slander and lashon harah (evil talk).

The headlines are replete with stories of financial impropriety, grand theft and cheating scandals – but the Talmud states, “Money can be reimbursed, but the damage of words is irreparable. Money is a person's property, but words hurt the person himself.” In truth, harming one’s reputation does not only cause one to suffer embarrassment and emotional injury. It also creates a spiral of ill feelings that domino from person to person – leaving a trail of destruction virtually impossible to track.

A lifetime may not be sufficient to recover from the troubles of “mere words.” The court of public opinion is often harsher than a court of law.


In this week’s double-parsha of Tazria-Metzora we read about the punishment for lashon harah. A thief, the Torah stipulates, must repay the victim double the stolen property value. But the perpetrator of lashon harah is not required to pay specific monetary damages to the victim. Why?

The punishment the Torah does mete out to the speaker of lashon harah is banishment from the community and living on the outskirts of town for a period of time. What does this accomplish other than “sticking it” to the culprit?


Perhaps the Talmud’s message about the impossibility of repayment is telling. Ultimately, no money in the world can cause someone to recover from a damaged reputation. The separation from society is a burden they may carry forever. Finances can never adequately compensate for the loneliness of a human being.

The only remedy for lashon harah is to prevent it in the first place. By experiencing utter isolation, the wrongdoer may feel what it’s like to be in the shoes of the victim. Maybe, maybe they will be driven to repent and make amends.

Now, think about the power of speaking positively about others!

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