ויקרא אל־משׁה וידבר יהוה אליו מאהל מועד לאמר
דבר אל־בני ישׂראל ואמרת אלהם
Adonai called to Moshe and spoke to him from the tent of meeting. He said, "Speak to the people of Isra'el; say to them,(Lev 1:1-2 CJB)
Many nuances of the Hebrew elude us as we read the text in English. For this reason, I wanted to share a little of what some of the sages say about the first verse of Leviticus.
It may sound elementary, but so many problems could be avoided if we lived by the following principles that Jewish sages found in the first two verses of this section.
The Talmud states that from the words, 'He said (which infers: 'say to others', we learn that HaShem gave permission to Moshe to say the things he said to the Children of Israel (Yomah 4b). From this, we learn that we have no right to repeat what someone tells us unless we are given explicit permission to do so.
Below are the basic laws pertaining to secrets interspersed with my commentary:
1) Chofetz Chayim, ch. 2
“If someone tells you private information about his business or any personal matter, you are forbidden to disclose it to others. Your doing so could cause the person who confided in you financial loss, embarrassment, or other damage. Even if the speaker did not request that the matter remain secret, you are not allowed to repeat it.”
Many of us, in the course of casual conversation while thinking nothing of it, may have found ourselves repeating something we have been told by someone else It may be about someone's financial blessing or misfortune; a situation with their children at school, or something related to their professional life either positive or negative. The idea is that when we expose other people’s issues through our own light, it causes others to establish a certain opinion of the people we talked about. As a result, these people's relationship with others will be affected by our incomplete bias judgement. Basically, it is none of our business to talk about others.
2) B'air Mayim Chayim 2:27
“When someone reveals to you seemingly harmless information in a manner which shows that he would like it to be kept secret, you are forbidden to repeat it to others even if he did not explicitly tell you to keep it a secret. In Lev 1:1, HaShem spoke to Moshe in the privacy of the Tent of Meeting. It was only permissible for Moshe to divulge what he heard from HaShem because HaShem told him to do so.”
Like the old adage says: “When in doubt, don't.”. But why do we like so much to divulge precious information? Does it have to do with our sinful nature? Oh, how we like to be the ones telling others something they don't know. It gives us a sense of control, a sense of power. And the secret information is all the more attractive when it pertains to something negative concerning someone. Why? Because we tend to think that we make our candle shine brighter when we put down that of others. It’s bad enough that our politicians live and campaign by doing that, but it is worse when it is done by people who claim to be disciples of the Master.
3) The Chofetz Chayim also writes that it is a good habit to never repeat what people tell you, unless they give you permission to do so. In this way you will never relate information that might cause harm (ibid.)
A friend of mine uses the analogy that “A secret becomes like a rash that we're itching to tell others!”
So many problems between people, families, and friends could be avoided, if we were just a bit more retrained in talking about others, and avoided sharing freely and giving judgements and opinions in casual conversation. Here is a quote i read one day,
“'Great people talk about ideas.
Average people talk about things.
Small people talk about people!”
4) Pele Yoatz, section sod
“You have no right to repeat someone's secret just because you add the phrase, "Don't repeat this to anyone else." The person to whom you related the secret might follow your example and pass on the secret also adding, "Don't repeat this to anyone else." In a very short time, the secret becomes public knowledge and causes harm and embarrassment to the person who confided in you.”
Our Master said, "Always treat others as you would like them to treat you; that sums up the teaching of the Torah and the Prophets".(Mat 7:12 CJB)
This statement is not singular to the Master but an addition to the wisdom of many, such as Tobit (3 BCE) who said, "What you hate, do to no one"; and of Isocrates, Aristotle and Confucius. Rabbi Hillel, an older contemporary to the Master is known to have said, "What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary. Go and learn it!' " (Shabbat 31a)
The Golden Rule paraphrases Lev 19:18, "You are to love your neighbor as yourself," which Yeshua called the second-greatest commandment (Mar 12:28-31). These dogmas should definitely be applied to speech and conversation.
5) Pele Yoatz
“Husbands and wives have no right to tell each other secrets that someone else told him or her in confidence.”
It is hopeful that couples live by relationships that makes this advice impossible to follow. We have to therefore warn our interlocutor by asking, "Do you mind if I share this with my spouse?". The problem stems that whereas one spouse may have healthy conversation habits, the other may not.
6) Rabainu Yonah to Prov 11:13:
“A gossip goes around revealing secrets, but a trustworthy person keeps a confidence.
If you hear someone speaking r'chilut (speaking against others) never trust him with your secrets. A person who is unable to discipline himself not to speak against others will certainly not be careful to conceal secrets.”
Those who talk negatively about others in casual conversation should be stopped in their tracks. It is poison to the fellowship of the saints; spots in our feasts. The way they talk to us about others reveals the way they talk to others about us.
Ya'akov Hatzaddik, James the Just who is the brother of our Master said:
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, since you know that we will be judged more severely. For we all stumble in many ways; if someone does not stumble in what he says, he is a mature man who can bridle his whole body.
If we put a bit into a horse's mouth to make it obey us, we control its whole body as well. And think of a ship -- although it is huge and is driven by strong winds, yet the pilot can steer it wherever he wants with just a small rudder. So too the tongue is a tiny part of the body, yet it boasts great things. See how a little fire sets a whole forest ablaze!
Yes, the tongue is a fire, a world of wickedness. The tongue is so placed in our body that it defiles every part of it, setting ablaze the whole of our life; and it is set on fire by Gei-Hinnom itself. For people have tamed and continue to tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures; but the tongue no one can tame -- it is an unstable and evil thing, full of death-dealing poison!
With it we bless Adonai, the Father; and with it we curse people, who were made in the image of God. Out of the same mouth come blessing and cursing! Brothers, it isn't right for things to be this way. A spring doesn't send both fresh and bitter water from the same opening, does it? Can a fig tree yield olives, my brothers? or a grapevine, figs? Neither does salt water produce fresh. (Jas 3:1-12 CJB)
MAY WE BE BLESSED AS WE FOLLOW THIS ADVICE FROM KING SOLOMON.
"Don't speak impulsively -- don't be in a hurry to give voice to your words before God.
For God is in heaven, and you are on earth; so let your words be few.
(Ecc 5:2 CJB) (5:1 in Jewish editions)
R' Gavriel Lumbroso