The Most Dangerous Part of The Human Body
What is the most dangerous part of the human body? A boxer might say our hands. A martial arts expert might say one’s legs. Would anyone say one’s mouth?
I want to introduce you to the thoughts of Rabbi Israel Meyer Kagan (1839-1933), who was better known as the Chafetz Chaim, which means “Desirer of Life.” He devoted his research and writings to the study of the power of words, and especially the dangers of gossip. Through dozens of books, articles and texts, the Chafetz Chaim focused on controlling one’s words. He taught that a person’s lips serve as spiritual “gates” through which thoughts and inclinations can exit, and become “weaponized” – often hurting and damaging others.
These days it seems gossip has become commonplace and too often accepted or ignored. In our society, gossip has become a growth industry. We are flooded by television programs, podcasts and broadcasts that are focused on disparaging people, on ruining reputations, on cutting everyone down to size, on mocking, humiliating, ruining everyone in sight.
Vehicles such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are frequently used to rebuke, damage or attack others.
How often are sensitive hearts mortally wounded by words posted through the gates of social media?
The Talmud teaches us the Jewish tradition that when gossip is uttered, three different people are damaged; the subject, the speaker and the listener.
How often do we permit hurtful words to pass through our lips? How often are our words used to destroy rather than heal?
Our lips are like our gates, and we have to guard what comes out.
As we approach the High Holidays, and we think about the terrible divisiveness in our society, and we shake our heads at the angry words that clog all our methods of communication, we might stop and reflect on what has come out of our mouths in the last year.
Have we stopped listening to anyone who dares to disagree with us? Have we dispensed with friends because they had the nerve to disagree with us?
How much gossip have we allowed out of the gates of our lips? And how much gossip have we permitted to taint us just by listening?
The Chafetz Chayyim used the word “gates” not only to refer to our lips, but also to our ears, our eyes, our facial expressions, and all other forms of communication as we interact with others.
I can’t control the media. But I can control what I say and what I listen to and what I repeat.
We can do better.