Digital Damage

Friday, 12 April, 2024 - 6:28 am

A Texas family is suing a school district after it failed to act in response to their son being bullied. The school denies that the activity rose to the definition of bullying.

Here’s what happened: Their son, a player on the high school football team, is severely allergic to peanuts. He carries an EpiPen with him wherever he goes. Some students intentionally placed peanuts in his locker and on his uniform. Luckily, he was uninjured from the incident.

So, which is worse: taunting words, derogatory tweets, or harmful acts?


In this week’s Torah portion, Tazria, we read about the consequences of Lashon Harah (evil talk, gossip and slander).

The Midrash explains that Lashon Harah is terrible because, “What is spoken in Rome may kill in Syria.”  The Talmud compares Lashon Harah to an arrow. Once it is released it cannot be retracted.  The words travel and develop a life of their own. One person shares it with another, until it can reach the other side of the world.


The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneersohn of righteous memory, encouraged my wife’s grandfather to transcribe his sermons. One argument the Rebbe often made was that the written word is eternal.  When something is spoken there may not be a definitive record. It may not survive long-term. But when it is written, its message stays intact. It’s influence is pervasive and permanent.

This unique quality of the written word cuts both ways. It preserves the positive and promotes the negative.


As telephone conversations give way to text messages and Instagram posts, the spoken and written words merge.  What was once a verbal burst of anger or insensitivity is now an instant globally available broadcast.

If the words of the Midrash were true without telephones, how much more so today.

The Torah only mentions the evil tongue, the lesser of two evils.  If we must be careful with the fleeting words of our mouths, certainly we ought to take caution with the words of our pen, or smartphone.

From the Torah’s view, Lashon Harah is so dangerous because words are considered like actions.


As my mentor, the Rebbe, taught: By seeing the great damage caused by negative speech (spoken or digital), we can appreciate the even greater benefit caused by positive speech (spoken or digital).  If destructive speech may be spoken in Rome but kill in Syria, good speech can be typed in Boise and give life in Tokyo.

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