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This is another oldy, but goody. From January 2016 – but still ever so relevant today.

Someone just kindly sent me a document that was signed by pretty much every Gadol Hador you care to mention from the last few years, decrying the emergence of ‘haredi’ news sites, and warning the frum public to stay away from them.

What’s wrong with ‘haredi’ news sites, you might ask?

Don’t we need to know what’s going on with all the Rebbes, and all the issues in our local schools and communities, and all the latest appointments being made in our institutions?

Here’s where we hit a huge, halachic reality check that most of us, maybe nearly all of us, would prefer to completely ignore and pretend it doesn’t exist: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS ‘GOOD’ NEWS.

What do I mean by that? I mean that even the most ‘haredi’ news site is regularly reporting things that fall completely foul of even the most basic laws of lashon hara, or evil speech.

Remember, any negative information about a Jew, even if it’s true, still counts as lashon hara.

Sure, there are times when negative information about Jews has to be publicized toelet, for a good reason, such as in cases of abuse, or to avoid potential harm or danger. But the rules governing these instances are very specific and very exacting, and they’re being completely ignored by even the most ‘haredi’ news sites.

Worse, every news site, every blog, every facebook group has its own slant, bias and agenda, even if it’s just implicit. So the ‘news’ you’re getting from that site – or from any other place – is subjectively colored by the beliefs and the desires of the people putting that information together.

Even when people are Torah-observant and well-meaning, they still have any number of subconscious biases, grudges, and prejudices that will color how and what they write, often without being consciously aware of the problems at all.

If you ask that Ashkenazi Litvak guy why he loves running negative pieces about Sephardi poskim, he probably has no idea that on some level he’s trying to prove ‘his’ approach and worldview right, at someone else’s expense.

Or, if you ask the Chassidic writer why so many of his stories are focusing on the teens going off the derech in the non-chassidic communities, he’s not going to know that he’s still fighting a subconscious battle in print with his very difficult yekke parent.

There are hidden agendas going on all over the place with the media and the people who are putting the information together, both obvious and less so. The problems of lashon hara, and people slanting information occur even with very well-meaning and genuinely God-fearing people.

But when the people putting the news out are not well-meaning, not God-fearing (however ‘frum’ they look on the outside) and very emotionally-disturbed – well then Houston, we have a problem.

Because knowledge is power. Readership is power. Huge numbers of visitors reading your site is power. And power, as well all know only too well, is completely corrupting (and also hugely attractive to emotionally-disturbed people who crave attention and influence.)

I’ve been a journalist now for more than 20 years. I started off on a financial mag straight out of university, before going on to work at a Jewish weekly in London, then freelancing for the nationals in the UK, and then going into PR and speechwriting for the British government.

A big reason why I left journalism is because I once went to a class on lashon hara in Gateshead, where the Rabbi spelled out the more basic laws so well, that I immediately understood that most of the stories I was writing for my Jewish paper – even in a well-intentioned, God-fearing way – were lashon hara.

I asked that Rabbi what a Jewish journalist should do, to avoid transgressing the laws of lashon hara, and he answered very succinctly: “Quit!”

Because I’m (trying to be…) a God-fearing Jew, I took his advice seriously, and a few months’ later, I went into PR and speechwriting instead of journalism (which had its own issues, but that’s a story for another time.)

To put this another way: God-fearing people don’t write the news.

Even on ‘haredi’ sites, they don’t abide by the laws of lashon hara, and they’ll write whatever will get the most people flocking to their sites, even if it’s outrageously deceptive, morally corrupt and completely destructive.

If they were truly God-fearing, they’d quit.

Our generation has so very many tests to contend with, I know. Sometimes, the gap between what many of us know is correct, and what we see happening in our own lives and communities is so enormous, it can plunge us into the deepest pit of despair and apathy. In our modern world, how can we not follow the news? But Hashem’s laws haven’t changed, and the rules of lashon hara still apply today – probably even more so than previously.

After I realized just how morally corrupt and corrupting all the Jewish news sites really were, even the ‘haredi’ ones, after the whole debacle with Rav Berland a few weeks’ back, I went cold turkey on reading them.

Man, it was pretty hard going the first few weeks, as following the news is addictive (which is another sign that it’s spiritually ‘bad’, because no-one gets ‘addicted’ to saying Tehillim, or eating lettuce.) I decided I needed a proxy to help me wean off the toxic Jewish news, so I picked….BBC news!

BBC news is so biased, so PC in all the worst ways, and so blatantly manipulative and untruthful, I can’t bear to spend more than 5 seconds looking at it. My yetzer gets its ‘news’ fix, but I don’t believe a word of it, because I know what a filthy place it’s coming from.

I’m not claiming this is a perfect solution, but it’s a ‘real’ solution, and at some point soon, BH, I’ll stop checking that news site, too.

The last thing to say is that while I’ve been writing about news sites, this all clearly applies to things like blogs, newsletters and Facebook groups, too.  I’ll cover Facebook in a separate post, but every time we read or write something online, the potential for contravening the laws of lashon hara are huge.

The Chofetz Chaim famously wrote that lashon hara is the sin that destroyed the last temple and caused the exile. When a person speaks negatively about another Jew, or reads something negative about another Jew, that causes hatred to blossom in their heart towards that other person.

There’s enough hatred in the world towards Jews already, without us adding more fuel to the flames.

I’m really not into Facebook.

I got an account two years’ ago because all the book marketing stuff I was reading told me I HAD to have Facebook, if I wanted to get anything done online!!! So, I got an account, and used it to set up some ‘fan pages’ for my blog and books, so I could post stuff from Emunaroma straight from my blog, and that’s it.

Until about two months’ ago, when I was so desperate for The Secret Diary of a Jewish Housewife to do well, I decided I should probably have more of a presence on Facebook. That was my first mistake. My second mistake was starting to accept ‘friend’ requests, as that instantly transformed me into someone who was ‘consuming information’ from Facebook, and not just putting it out.

I had about 12 friends until yesterday.

Yesterday, I clicked on a ‘friend notification’ message and found myself in the middle of one of the most poisonous, disgusting and mentally-ill pieces of writing I’ve ever had the misfortune to come across on the web.

Worse, this masterpiece of slander and evil speech had 10,000 ‘likes’, and a slew of equally warped, poisonous comments.

It was an orgy of hatred and bigotry. There’s simply no other way of describing it.

And the fact that it was written, commented on and ‘liked’ by so many externally frum Jews, in complete contravention of all the laws of evil speech and slander, all the laws of avoiding machloket, all the laws of seeing our fellow Jew with a good eye, and respecting Torah, and Torah scholars – well, the Shechina surely tore kria and sat shiva for these people’s souls.

Tens of the generation’s leading rabbis were publicly slandered and scorned.

Tens of thousands of upstanding, God-fearing Jews were arrogantly dismissed as being gullible, brain-dead ‘cult members’ – almost as sub-human, in the author’s eyes, as people who voted for Trump…

Dear reader, I literally felt like I was going to throw up, I got such a strong whiff of Gehinnom floating across from the computer screen. I decided there and then that I had to show God that I wanted absolutely no part, no connection to anything so frankly evil – so I permanently deleted all of my Facebook accounts, there and then.

It’s like when Korach went after Moshe Rabbenu: anyone who had even the slightest connection to the guy, or his followers, even to the smallest degree, also got sucked down into the pit with him for eternity.

I felt SOOOOO much better afterwards!

But still very disturbed by what I’d seen. I started to ponder, what is it about Facebook that’s causing such rampaging mental illness to be accepted as ‘normal’? How is it that Facebook is bringing out the very worst in people, and turning formerly nice, thoughtful individuals into hate-filled demagogues?

After pondering it, I think there’s a few things going on. Firstly, Facebook constantly bombards you with pritzut – immorality, licentiousness, lack of modesty, in every sense of the word. It’s in all the pictures of people sharing very private occasions very publicly, all the comments, all the ‘look at me!’ and ‘please like me!’ attention-seeking.

A Jewish soul gets so de-sensitised to ‘gutter culture’ on Facebook, it can no longer easily recognise the difference between right and wrong, good and bad.

Facebook also exacerbates whatever mental illness a person has in the first place.

It encourages bullying narcissists to bully more, depressed types to feel even more like sad, invisible losers who are getting left behind by life, people with anger issues to ‘take it out’ on whichever poor sap’s post they happen to see first, whiners to whine more, exhibitionists to show off more, critics to criticise more – you get the idea.

And again, the more this behaviour is indulged in, the more ‘normal’ it becomes.

Writing reflects the inner dimension of a person much more accurately than the external social manners and mores so many of us have perfected from a young age. How a person writes, is how a person is.

That’s why there’s so many obvious psychos on Facebook, and so many people with obvious (and worsening…) mental health issues.

That stuff is actually there in these people all the time, just few places enable it to be expressed as easily, or as publicly, as Facebook.

Hang out with psychos, hang out with sociopaths, hang out with narcissists, hang out with mentally-ill people – and you yourself will start to think the way they think, and speak the way they speak, and do the terrible, evil, anti-Torah stuff they do online (and elsewhere…)

It’s properly scary.

So, I’m incredibly relieved that God permanently sprang me out of Facebook yesterday. As time goes on, it’s increasingly becoming the 8th circle of hell – a kind of modern add-on to Dante’s inferno.

I can’t think of anything more hellish than spending eternity online, plugged into Facebook, and swapping hate-filled, arrogant lies and calumnies about Tzaddikim and other upright Jews with your mentally-ill Facebook chums.

But what do I know?

How the Erev Rav and personality disorders are connected

A little while back, I got a tweet from someone (who knew people actually read those things…) criticizing me for linking ‘mental illness’ to the Erev Rav.

As it was a one line tweet, there wasn’t a lot of detail, but I still wanted to devote a post to responding to the criticism, because like it not, mental illness and the Erev Rav ARE inextricably linked.

This is probably not going to be an easy post to read for many people, and I apologise in advance for that.

In order to explain how mental illness and the Erev Rav are linked, I have to explain how I got onto this whole subject in the first place.

HOW I GOT INTO THE SUBJECT OF RESEARCHING THE EREV RAV

Around five years’ ago, I suddenly realized that so many of the very puzzling, difficult, upsetting and frankly bizarre behaviors, relationships and situations I was experiencing at that time were because many of the people I knew had undiagnosed and unacknowledged personality disorders, and in particular, Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

NPD manifests itself in two key (and superficially opposite) fashions:

  • Smothering, bullying and controlling
  • Uninterested, ‘absent’ and neglectful

There’s SO much stuff out there in the secular world about NPD. Here’s a rough round-up of most of the main points:

PEOPLE WITH NARCISSISTIC PERSONALITY DISORDER:

  • Can’t accept that they are anything except 100% perfect
  • Can’t empathise with other people, or see another person’s point of view – which enables them to mistreat others in a very cruel fashion, which they feel is completely justified ‘from their point of view’.
  • Project their own bad character traits on to other people, which means they mercilessly criticize others for the same things they themselves are doing (and denying).
  • Have a superiority complex and are obsessed with keeping up appearances at all costs.
  • Have very disturbing gossiping habits, manipulate others and make serious trouble between people wherever they go.
  • Are in a barely-contained state of permanent rage and anger – but will deny they are angry.
  • Act very vindictively, spitefully. They are unable to forgive anyone they feel has slighted them, particularly by suggesting they are anything less than perfect.
  • Are incredibly selfish and self-absorbed.
  • Relate to the world in a very superficial, materialistic way. They can’t ‘relate’ to others (or themselves) in an authentic way. They aren’t interested in more spiritual ideas and concepts.

I could go on, but you get the idea. The descriptions of NPD and the other ‘Cluster B’ personality disorders fit what I was experiencing to a tee. But I knew even back then that the only truth is Torah.

So then I started researching, did the Torah describe any phenomenon that would dove-tail with the secular descriptions of how people behave and treat other people when they have a ‘Cluster B’ personality disorder?

THE EREV RAV CONNECTION

Very quickly, Hashem sent me a whole bunch of information about the Erev Rav – and that’s when things got really intense, because the typical Erev Traits as set out by our Sages, and the typical traits you find in Cluster B personality disorders fit like a hand in a glove.

God appeared to be using personality disorders, and particularly narcissism, to hide the reality of the Erev Rav people in our lives, right under our noses.

But the question haunted me for three years: Can Erev Rav / personality disordered people change? Can they make teshuva? Can they be fixed?

Most of the Jewish sources on the subject said no.

The most current secular thinking (as expressed in the DSM) also said ‘no’ – when people have a Cluster B personality disorder, and especially narcissism, there is nothing you can do to help them to change that.

The main problem is that when someone refuses to acknowledge they are a flawed human being, and strives to maintain the illusion of their own perfection and infallibility, they won’t acknowledge any of the things they are doing wrong, or make any effort to try to fix them.

To put it another way: as long as someone clings to the notion they are only ever perfect and never make any mistakes, they stay a mentally-ill narcissist.

And that’s where I got stuck for three long years, until I read a discourse that Rav Berland gave in 2000, that completely transformed the whole picture and gave me hope for the first time that the Erev Rav / personality disordered people in our midst can change and can make teshuva, if they really want to.

I explain what Rav Berland said, and a whole bunch of other stuff about how to actually go about fixing these Erev Rav traits, in much more detail in the book, ‘Unlocking the Secret of the Erev Rav’. But I want to end this post on an ‘up’ note, and tie everything back together with my Tweeter’s original criticism of the book.

PERSONALITY DISORDERS ARE CAUSED BY TRAUMA, AND CAN BE REVERSED

Over the last two years, I’ve learned a great deal about psychiatric thought, trauma and the true causes of serious mental illnesses including personality disorders and narcissism. (Yes, I do plan on writing it all up into yet another book, and I even have a working title for it: Animal or angel? The real roots of mental illness and how to cure it.)

The upshot is this: personality disorders are a false, pseudo-scientific construct created by a ‘materialistic’ psychiatric industry that fails to put people’s soul into the picture. The main problems underpinning mental illnesses like personality disorders come down to the same main problems underpinning Erev Rav character traits, namely:

  • People are completely disconnected from God, their souls and the more spiritual aspects of life.
  • Without a strong connection to God, they are consumed by animalistic impulses and governed by bad middot that cause them to act in a personality disordered / Erev Rav type way.
  • Physiologically, personality disorders are caused by trauma, and particularly the types of trauma that come from being emotionally abused and / or neglected in childhood.
  • The single best way to strengthen the ‘good’, mature part of the brain so that it can stand up to the traumatized, primitive, ‘animalistic’ part of the brain is via regular prayer and hitbodedut.
  • It’s about TRAITS not about LABELS. Each bad character trait we eliminate brings us closer to true emotional and spiritual health, and takes us further away from acting like a mentally ill, personality-disordered Erev Rav.
  • Everybody occasionally acts like an Erev Rav. But with enough prayer, honesty and emuna, every single negative character trait can be permanently uprooted and rectified.

To sum up, personality disorders are a secular description of Erev Rav behaviors and traits.

The two are fundamentally linked, because they are describing the same phenomena, albeit one in ‘materialistic’ secular terms, and the other in Torah terms.

But the Torah’s truth, as expounded by Rav Berland, is that the Erev Rav people in our midst CAN be fixed, and sooner or later most of them will be (barring the ones who cause terrible strife and machloket amongst Jews).

But in the meantime, we still need to recognize what we’re dealing with when we come up against those difficult, arrogant, brazen and abusive characters we all unfortunately know, and to stop making excuses for what’s going on around us.

There are lots of personality disordered people in our midst. There are lots of Jewish narcissists. That’s the reality, and the Torah also told us that before Moshiach comes, the Erev Rav would return in force in order to finally be rectified. The Jewish people have been through so much trauma, I guess it couldn’t really be any other way at this stage of the game.

Calling a spade a spade and correctly identifying the emotional and spiritual problems in our midst is the first step towards really rectifying them.

Moshiach will help us to finish this job when he finally shows up, but in the meantime, we have to start that process and recognize that a lot of mental illnesses, especially personality disorders, and Erev Rav traits are essentially just two sides of the same coin.

But the key point to remember is that these mentally-ill / Erev Rav type behaviors CAN BE FIXED, and are primarily cured by working on our emuna, and making God a real and regular force in our lives.

As soon as a person says sorry, as soon as they admit they aren’t perfect, they start the long, difficult journey of fixing their souls and returning to God.

Of all of Rebbe Nachman’s tales, I have two favorites: The Cripple, and the Master of Prayer.

While it’s always something of a stretch to claim to be able to ‘understand’ Rebbe Nachman’s teachings, I always get so much chizzuk and inspiration from both of these stories.

Both are talking about what will be at the End of Days, before Moshiach comes, but while the Master of Prayer is phrased more in terms of global and national redemption, The Cripple is very, very personal.

It describes a cripple – a person who can’t walk, and who ends up being robbed in the forest by a bunch of bandits, and who then has to eat grass to survive. In the process of eating grass, the cripple finds a magic diamond (aka hitbodedut, or personal prayer), that shows him how he can heal his legs and regain his wealth from the bandits who robbed him.

So far so good, then the tale gets a little wild: The cripple hears the sun and moon discussing their problems, and the moon describes how the world is full of all these families of ‘demons’ – people who look like human beings, but who are actually missing something big, spiritually-speaking.

But the only way an outsider can tell who is a spiritually-corrupt ‘demon’ and who is really a human being is by looking at the demons’ feet:

The demons have chicken feet, not human feet. (‘Feet’ is a reference to emuna, and more particularly to bringing God down into the world by seeing Him in every single aspect of our lives.)

These demons have a king. They have jobs. And they have a mission in life, to keep people away from the true Tzaddik (aka Moshiach), who’s represented in the story by a big tree. If enough water would reach the tree, the demons would disappear and the world would be redeemed.

The demons make it their number one priority to keep people away from this tree. They dig ditches around it. They go around torturing people and making them suffer. And most importantly of all, the ‘talkers’ amongst the demon speak a lot of lashon hara about how believing in Tzaddikim is ‘cultish’; and how people don’t need to get close to the real Tzaddikim, they ‘just need God and their own (warped…) intelligence’.

To cut a long story short, there’s a wise man and his small band of followers who takes on the demons.

This wise man’s main weapons are prayer and perfect faith in Hashem – he advises his followers to accept whatever God decides for them, good or bad, and to not try to find ‘spiritual short-cuts’ involving sorcery and other things to try to solve their problems.

At the end of the story, due to the wise man’s great emuna and submission to God, the demons end up destroying themselves. Again, to cut a long story short, the ‘talkers’ amongst the demons start turning on the other demons (as opposed to the human beings) and this sparks off a civil war, which leads to a bunch of earthquakes and other natural disasters which finally cause the ditches around the tree to collapse, and the tree to be watered.

This brings Moshiach. Hooray!

Now, why am I telling you this?

You’ll recall that lashon hara, or speaking evilly of other people (even for supposedly ‘good’ reasons) is one of the biggest tell-tale traits of the Erev Rav. You’ll hopefully also recall (from THIS post) the basic rules of lashon hara which forbid us from pointing out people’s bad middot, publicly to other people.

The reason for this is simple: the people who speak lashon hara always justify the bad things they are saying about other people. As soon as you or I start speaking lashon hara about the people who are speaking lashon hara, we fall into that same trap – and in the words of the Cripple, it’s akin to using ‘sorcery’ and other demonic habits to try to solve our problems, instead of asking God to deal with it.

(That said, there ARE times that we can speak negatively about others in a public forum.)

So how does ‘good’ triumph, ultimately, if these demonic people are running around shooting their poisonous mouths off and nothing can be done to stop them?

Rebbe Nachman explains something wonderful: the talkers will destroy themselves.

One person with a huge lashon hara issue will pick a fight with another person who has a huge lashon hara issue, and all we have to do is stay out of it and watch them kill each other.

Genius!

Things are so, so mixed up at this time at the End of Days.

I know from my own experience it can be so darned tempting to weigh in on all the machloket, arguments and mud-slinging that’s going on all around us – all for the very best reasons, natch. But our voice is the voice of Jacob. Where ‘Esav-type’ people will use their words and voices to attack and destroy others, the authentic Jewish way is to use our voices to pray, and get God involved in solving our problems, and destroying all the bad, evil things that are permeating our world.

And if we do that, the demonic forces in the world will automatically destroy themselves; the tree will get watered, and Moshiach WILL come.

If you’ve been listening to my podcasts on the Erev Rav, or even buying my book and reading it (God bless you…) then you’ll know that speaking lashon hara and making trouble between people is probably the number one top Erev Rav trait.

Of the Vilna Gaon’s five main groups of Erev Rav behaviours, he himself stated that the very worst one was speaking lashon hara and causing strife. This group was so bad, the Vilna Gaon called the people who indulged in this behavior ‘Amalekites’, and had some very harsh things to say about them, including that they’d have to disappear out the world completely before Moshiach comes.

Here’s the thing with lashon hara: the person who wants to do it always has a number of justifications and excuses for indulging themselves.

Some of the most popular include:

  • It’s true
  • People need to be warned about the problem
  • Those nasty, evil people have it coming to them, anyway
  • It makes for interesting reading, or conversation
  • It’s fun to stir up a whole bunch of drama and then feed off other people’s upset, shame and strong emotions

Of all of these, number two is probably the most problematic, because it sounds the most sincere, holy and community-minded.

Consequently, it’s all too easy for our yetzer haras to pull the wool over our eyes, and convince us that we need to go all out on an ‘information’ campaign to warn others about the negative situations / actions / threats that we believe are occurring.

Here’s the thing, though: As soon as we open our mouths to start slagging other people off – EVEN IF ITS TRUE – we instantly become part of the problem, instead of part of the solution. The Chofetz Chaim had some very harsh things to say about people who regularly spoke badly of others, including calling them ‘baalei lashon hara’ and saying that such people were committing so many awful sins every time they opened their mouth, they should be given a wide berth and considered as though they were a very wicked person.

God has created the laws of lashon hara such that it’s pretty much impossible to talk openly and negatively about named individuals in a public forum without transgressing them in a pretty big way.

On occasion, some individuals are so dangerous, nasty and evil, that the Beit Din, or big Tzaddikim, will take the very unusual step of warning the public away from that person. When it’s done by a Beit Din or a bona fide Tzaddik, you can be sure that the halachas governing talking negatively about others for a positive purpose (l’toelet) have all been carefully considered before any action was taken.

But generally speaking, calling people out in public is completely forbidden, and transgresses the 31 laws associated with lashon hara.

So now, you might be thinking: What’s going on here??!?

If people are doing things that are wrong, or are acting unethically or inappropriately, surely God wants as many people to know about that as possible?

Dear reader, I have struggled with this issue so very many times. Each time I exploded another crack-pot religious phoney, for example, my instinct was to write a warts n’all expose about them, so no-one else would get duped.

Thankfully, my husband has a much cooler head than mine, and insisted that we speak to Rav Arush before taking any irrevocable steps to ‘name and shame’ anyone. Doubly-thankfully, Rav Arush gave me excellent advice to keep my mouth shut, and let God handle things.

Why is this excellent advice? Because like we said, as soon as you speak lashon hara, you become part of the very problem you’re trying to solve. You become another force for evil and strife in the world, all with the very best intentions.

When all is said and done, how do I know that my assessment of the other person is really correct?

How do I know that I’m really as objective as I’d like to think? How do I know that the problem is 100% their problem, and not 100% my own problem? Let’s remind ourselves that every evil-speaking, hyper-critical poisonous person out there doesn’t see themselves that way at all. In their world, they are always the victim, or the hero, and completely justified in everything they say and do to others, however horrible.

How do we know, really, that we don’t have that same blind spot?

When you’re a huge Tzaddik, or when you’re sitting in a beit din with other pious individuals, this is much less of an issue. But when it’s you and me we’re talking about, we need to err very carefully on the side of caution.

There is a time and a place to speak badly of others, especially in any situation where abuse of minors could be occurring. But that still has to be done within the framework of speaking evilly l’toelet, for a good purpose, which is governed by many different halachas. (Check HERE for a crash course in lashon hara, which sets out the very basic principles.)

In the meantime, the sooner we eradicate the evil speech, the sooner we’ll get redemption, Moshiach and all that good stuff.

And if we can’t or won’t keep our mouths shut, and God is ready to redeem us now, then we could be in for a pretty rough ride.

picture of a man holding a burning newspaper

It’s known that the Chofetz Chaim believed that lashon hara, or evil speech, was the main cause of our long, bitter exile.

The Chofetz Chaim stated on more than one occasion that as soon as the sin of lashon hara was fixed, the exile would end and the Moshiach would come.

Rav Chaim Dovid Stern stated that ‘Rav Berland is the last test before Moshiach.’

What does this test involve?

Lashon hara, in all its many, soul-destroying forms!

How do we pass this test? By not engaging in any of the forms of evil speech that destroyed our Second Temple, and are keeping us in exile. Sadly, most of us don’t seem to realize how much of what we’re saying and doing, especially online, is directly contravening the laws of lashon hara in the worst ways.

So to fix that, I’ve put together this crash-course in Lashon Hara, based on the practical halachas contained in the book: Purity of Speech.

Basic background to Lashon Hara (evil speech)

Every time a person engages in Lashon Hara, they can transgress 17 negative and 14 positive mitzvot.

The Torah tells us we shouldn’t ‘peddle’ gossip to other people by passing on ‘juicy’ information – even when it’s true!

And that we also shouldn’t accept, or cause other people to accept, false reports.

These are mitzvot d’orayta, straight from the Torah.

THE DEFINITION OF LASHON HARA:

Lashon Hara is when someone speaks evilly about, or believes someone else’s evil report about another Jew. Specifically, the evil speech about another Jew does one of the following things:

  • Degrades the other Jew in the eyes of other people
  • Causes that other Jew shame
  • Causes him financial loss.

AGAIN, THESE RULES APPLY EVEN WHEN THE INFORMATION IS TRUE. WHEN THE INFORMATION IS FALSE AND LIBELLOUS, THEN THE TRANSGRESSION IS MANY, MANY TIMES GREATER. AND WHEN THE PERSON BEING SPOKEN ABOUT IS A HOLY RABBI, THE SIN IS COMPOUNDED.

Many people think that if they’re just writing something on the internet, that’s not Lashon Hara. This is completely untrue. It’s just as forbidden to write negative information as it is to say it.

Also, if you write something anonymously, that still doesn’t get you off the hook. God knows exactly who you are, and you’re still accountable for what you wrote about another person, and any damage you might have done as a result.

Even if the information you’re passing along is well-known and already in the public domain, it’s still forbidden to talk about it.

RECHILUS, OR CAUSING HATRED TOWARDS A FELLOW JEW

There’s another category of Lashon Hara, or evil speech, that’s called Rechilus, which involves causing other people to hate another Jew.

THE DEFINITION OF RECHILUS IS:

Anything you say or write which causes people to start hating another Jew.

If what you’re saying / writing / passing along is going to cause someone else to have ill-feelings towards a particular Jew, or group of Jews, then that is rechilut, another very serious form of evil speech.

Even if you agree with the information, it’s still forbidden to repeat it.

HOW YOU FIX THE SINS OF TALKING LASHON HARA / RECHILUT

To make Teshuva for the sin of TALKING evilly about another Jew, you have to do the following:

  • Regret doing it.
  • Confess to Hashem that by repeating negative information about a fellow Jew to other people, you did a terrible sin.
  • Take it upon yourself to work on your lashon hara problem, with the aim of not doing it ever again.
  • Ask forgiveness from the person you spoke about.

If you don’t do these four things, you didn’t fix your sin, spiritually.

WHEN IS IT PERMISSIBLE TO TALK NEGATIVELY ABOUT A FELLOW JEW?

There are some, rare, instances when it’s not only permitted to talk negatively about a fellow Jew, but you are required to do so. (Before you jump off using this as a heter, please go and talk to a Rav who knows the detailed laws required. This is just a basic guide.)

You can degrade someone if:

  • They are causing other people financial loss or physical harm, in some way
  • They habitually speak lashon hara (evil speech) about others
  • They are a ‘baal machloket’, i.e. someone who goes around deliberately causing trouble, strife and hatred between people.
  • They consistently violate the laws ‘bein Adam l’makom’ – i.e., they don’t keep the Torah’s commandments between God and man, such as keeping Shabbat, kosher, family purity etc.

Even if they meet these criteria, you can only talk negatively about them if the following 5 conditions are met:

  • The information has to be 100% true – and you need to have checked it out 100% to know that it is, and not just rely on other people’s information.
  • You can’t exaggerate one iota.
  • Your intention should be for a constructive purpose, and not just to get back at someone else or teach them a lesson
  • If there is any other way of achieving the constructive purpose other than speaking evilly, you’re required to try that first.
  • You have to evaluate your words very carefully, to figure out the potential impact on the person you’re talking about.

BELIEVING LASHON HARA

This is where it gets even more interesting, because in some ways BELIEVING lashon hara is even more problematic than speaking it. To give a common example, believing that story in the Jpost or on Arutz Sheva is just as big a sin as if you actually wrote it yourself.

It’s forbidden to:

  • Listen to lashon hara (or read it online…)
  • Believe lashon hara
  • Perform an action based on the lashon hara – like pinging that juicy article across to another 5 people with the title ‘I’m not judging, but look at this…’

Plus, the halacha states that you have to rebuke the person who’s telling you the lashon hara.

THIS APPLIES EVEN IF THE INFORMATION IS TRUE, AND IF THE 5 CONDITIONS FOR GIVING OVER INFORMATION FOR A POSITIVE OUTCOME HAVE NOT BEEN MET. WHEN THE INFORMATION IS FALSE, THE GRAVITY OF THE SIN OF BELIEVING IT IS COMPOUNDED MANY TIMES OVER.

The only times it’s OK to listen to lashon hara is when:

  • The information can directly affect you, or people who are very close to you in the future.
  • Someone is unburdening themselves to you.

The only times it’s OK to believe lashon hara is when:

  • It’s being said about a well-known rasha, or evil person
  • When a trustworthy person is saying it for a constructive purpose
  • When the conditions of ‘obvious signs’ are met:
    1. The obvious signs that the information is true should be directly related to what’s being discussed
    2. You’ve seen the ‘obvious signs’ that the information is true for yourself
    3. This information is going to directly affect you or impact you in some way.

SOMEONE IS ONLY CONSIDERED TO BE A ‘TRUSTWORTHY’ PERSON IN THESE CIRCUMSTANCES IF:

  • They’re as trustworthy as two witnesses testifying before a Beit Din.
  • They saw the negative behavior they’re talking about first hand.

And even when all these very difficult criteria are met, halacha still expects us to judge the person being spoken about favorably, especially if they’re a holy person.

A last, important, point to note is that it’s still forbidden to believe evil speech, even if it was repeated to you by a respected person, such as your rabbi, for example.

If all the conditions of passing information along l’toelet, for a positive purpose, as described above, have not been met by the ‘respected person’, then they are still transgressing the laws of lashon hara – and if you believe them and listen to them, and worse, pass the information on to others, than you are too.

HOW YOU FIX THE SIN OF BELIEVING LASHON HARA

To make Teshuva for the sin of BELIEVING evil things about another Jew, you have to do the following:

  • Regret doing it.
  • Confess to Hashem that by believing negative information about a fellow Jew, you did a terrible sin.
  • You have to work on uprooting the negative impression the evil speech left on your psyche
  • Take it upon yourself to work on your problem of believing lashon hara, with the aim of not doing it ever again.

IF YOU ALSO PASSED THE INFORMATION ON TO OTHER PEOPLE, THEN A FIFTH STEP IS ALSO REQUIRED:

  • Ask forgiveness from the person you spoke about.

NB: The Chofetz Chaim describes a ‘baal rechilut’, one who repeats negative information about their fellow Jew, as a rasha, (evil person), because of the number of sins they transgress by speaking lashon hara.

PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS OF THESE LAWS TO THE SUBJECT OF DISCUSSING RAV BERLAND

If you:

  • Read a negative story about Rav Berland someone online, you transgressed the laws pertaining to LISTENING to lashon hara. Really, it’s even forbidden to read that stuff.
  • Believed the negative story that your read (or were told) about Rav Berland, than you also transgressed the laws of BELIEVING lashon hara.
  • Passed that story on to others – even if you just emailed it on to someone else, or linked to it from your facebook page without making any other comment on it – you transgressed the laws of SPEAKING lashon hara, and you need to contact Rav Berland somehow to apologise for what you did.
  • If you commented negatively about Rav Berland yourself, whether online or in person, including anything you wrote ‘anonymously’ – then you transgressed the laws of SPEAKING lashon hara and depending what you said, you might also be considered to be a ‘baal machloket’ (i.e. a rasha).

And you need to make some serious Teshuva, including contacting Rav Berland to apologise to him.

THE GROWTH IN THE THROAT

In case anyone thinks this stuff is being exaggerated, and it’s not such a big deal because ‘everyone’ is doing it, a man went to Rav Chaim Kanievsky a couple of years’ ago because the doctors told him he had a cancerous growth in his throat.

Rav Kanievsky told him that the growth had occurred because he’d spoken badly about Rav Berland. The man got on a plane to Morocco, where the Rav was then staying, to go and apologise in person to him, for what he’d said.

I’ve heard many other similar stories being reported to – where the person involved is now publicizing what they did, and what happened to them as a form of teshvua – so please, be VERY careful when discussing Rav Berland.

The honest position for most people is:

  • To accept they don’t know anything about this matter.
  • To rely on the opinions of our Gedolim, such as Rav Arush, Rav Kook Rav Stern, Rav Abuchatzeira, Rav Morgenstern etc – who have checked everything out according to the laws of Beit Din, and found Rav Berland 100% innocent of all charges (aka, emunat Tzaddikim).
  • To keep their mouth firmly shut.
  • To make any Teshuva they need to make for listening to / believing in / speaking lashon hara about Rav Berland ASAP.

Remember, Rav Berland is the last test before Moshiach.

And avoiding lashon hara and rechilut, as set out above, is the way we’re all going to pass it.

picture of a man holding a burning newspaper

When I first started hearing about the war of Gog and Magog, primarily from the autistics, more than a decade ago, I got very caught up in trying to figure out which country was ‘Magog’ and who was ‘Gog’, their leader.

It’s George Dubbya!

It’s the US!

It’s Putin and Red Russia!

It’s the European Union!

It’s the UN!

And so on and so forth.

I was like that with everything a decade ago, thinking that all the apocalyptical events and dramatic upheavals, and wars being banded about were mamash just occurring in the physical world.

When you live in Israel, which averages a small war approximately every two years, (terrorist attacks not included) it’s easy to see why.

But a few years’ ago, I started to shift away from the ‘war on the outside’ model, to realize that the war being fought by the Jewish people today is 100% internal. Gog and Magog is taking place inside of us, inside of our homes, inside our relationships, inside our communities.

Gog and Magog is a spiritual war to clarify who is on Hashem’s side, and committed to God and His torah, and who isn’t. And things are so mixed-up today that just having a beard and a rabbinic ordination, or a long skirt and a reputation for being an excellent speaker on the ‘rent a rabbanit’ circuit doesn’t prove anything, in terms of who you’re really fighting for.

Two hundred years’ ago, Rebbe Nachman wrote what’s referred to as the ‘Secret Scroll’, a scroll written in code, that described in detail what would occur before Moshiach came. That scroll has been a closely guarded secret for years, but before he died a little while back, Rav Eliezer Schick, ZTL, wrote a little about the Scroll’s contents in his book, Paolot HaTzaddik.

(You can see the full excerpt HERE).

Rav Shick revealed that there would be a terrible ‘war’ prosecuted against the nation’s leading Tzaddikim, as part of the preparations for Geula.

He wrote (my translation):

“[T]he wars of Gog and Magog will include all the machloket (disagreements) and the accusations that will be made against the true Tzaddikim, those who uncover the true will of Hashem Yitborach.

“There are people who want to eat [these Tzaddikim] alive, and who say every forbidden thing against them, and mock them a lot. And by doing this, they greatly distance Jewish souls from coming near to them, and also lengthen the duration of our bitter exile.

“And they are the brazen-faced of the generation, the people with the face of a dog [RL note: these are both code words for the Erev Rav], the soldiers of Gog and Magog, who conceal the truth, and they are the wicked people of the generation…

“It’s written in the Midrash (BeMidbar Rabba, יח:י): ‘He who is brazen-faced, and who is not ashamed in front of those who are bigger than him, and he who is a baal machloket (troublemaker), you’ll see that he is the wickedest of the wicked.”

“And if I would have known, my dear brother, what was written in the Megillat Setorim regarding these soldiers of Gog and Magog, and the people who cover over the truth, I would have fallen on my face from fear and dismay, about how this bitter exile would be lengthened by them….

If you help the true Tzaddikim, then you will bring the geula closer, and you will merit to have all the good that has been set aside for the soldiers of the House of David. [Referring to Moshiach].”

What can we take from this?

Here’s the main points Rebbe Nachman, via Rav Schick, seems to be telling us about the true war of Gog and Magog:

  • It’s spiritual. We don’t need to look for the soldiers of Gog and Magog in Russia, or on the Syrian border, because really, they’re all around us, in our homes and communities.
  • The ‘soldiers of Gog and Magog’ are the people who mock our true Tzaddikim and Torah scholars, and who persecute them, libel them, speak falsehoods against them and generally do anything they can to ‘eat them alive’.
  • They conceal the truth – i.e., they don’t just make innocent mistakes or wrong assumptions, they go all-out to tell lies and fabrications, and deliberately bury the truth in a web of lies, mockery and deceit.
  • They make trouble for other people.
  • They aren’t ashamed to challenge people with more mitzvot, middot, learning, knowledge or experience – which covers pretty much everything that’s happening online, and in the world today generally, one way or another.
  • They are the ‘brazen-faced’ of the generation – which is always a scriptural ‘code-word’ for the Erev Rav. (My book, Unlocking the Secret of the Erev Rav, contains a lot more information and background supporting this point. You can buy it on Amazon, and also on the Book Depository.)

So now, what can we learn about the ‘soldiers of the House of David’, i.e. the good guys that are going to bring Moshiach and help Am Yisrael get redeemed via their struggles and efforts?

They help the true Tzaddikim.

In World War II, Switzerland liked to make a big show of its famous ‘neutrality’. Really, they were in the Germans’ back pocket, and were happy to stow away as much stolen wealth, artworks and museum pieces as the Germans could send them, in return for being left alone and not officially invaded.

World War II showed Switzerland’s true moral colors, despite all its posturing of impartiality and ‘not taking sides’, and they weren’t pretty.

Today, I think many of us are trying to follow the Swiss template in the war of Gog and Magog, and to sit on the sidelines keeping out of the action and continuing to live the good life, while our Tzaddikim and the other good people in our midst get taken out by the ‘soldiers of Gog and Magog’.

  • Like the soldier who killed a terrorist in Hevron, and got sent to prison for 9 years to show how ‘just’ Israel is to the rest of the world…
  • Like the IDF Rabbi who is being hounded in the press for correctly stating what halacha is, and correctly quoting the Torah…
  • Like Rav Berland, and others, who have been hounded, persecuted, chased and vilified for years, by people who are anti-Torah and anti-God.

You want to be Switzerland?

Go right ahead – I’m sure that wherever those Swiss bankers ended up, there’s always room for more people to join them.

But if you want to really bring Moshiach and the geula, then you’re going to have to fight for them.

You’re going to have to throw your hat in the ring with the ‘soldiers of King David’, and start sticking up for God and his Torah and his Tzaddikim, even when it’s really uncomfortable or scary to do that.

The Vilna Gaon famously wrote about the Erev Rav that we have to split off from them, and not follow their path and their ways. And that if someone didn’t manage to do that – i.e., they wanted to continue being ‘Switzerland’, spiritually – then it would be better for them if they’d never been born.

All week, we’ve been seeing the latest episode of ‘Gog and Magog’ playing out in the world. On one side, Rav Berland, Rav Shalom Arush, Rav Dov Kook, Rav David Abuchatzeira and a bunch more Tzaddikim (both known and more ‘hidden’). On the other: the press, and the government, and the mocking, slanderous, emotionally-abusive people who like to jump in and comment on things they know nothing about.

I think it’s getting clearer and clearer which side is the ‘soldiers of Gog and Magog’ and which side is the ‘soldiers of King David’.

And the war is still going on.

If you want Moshiach and redemption, help our true Tzaddikim! Get up and be counted. Don’t let the soldiers of Gog and Magog completely dominate the battlefield.

There’s big things at stake here. ‘Switzerland’ can’t exist in a world that’s only truth. But remember, the main weapon of a Jew is prayer. If it’s too scary to take on the crazy lunatics in the world, then at least start praying for the good guys to win, or give some tzedaka to the people who are waging the war on our behalf.

Start saying Tikkun HaKlali. Start talking to God every day. Start rooting out the ‘soldiers of Gog and Magog’ that are hiding out inside every single one of us. Do your bit!

And if you – and me, and as many other people as possible out there in the world – do that, then good will win out sooner rather than later, Moshiach will come now, and the war of Gog and Magog will finally be over.