A Jew and His Words
Reflections is sponsored in celebration of the aufruf of
Avraham David Stern . May the wonderful Stern Mishpacha only
know nachas and may Avraham David and Chani build a beautiful
bayis ne'eman together!
The Torah dedicates a unique term
for the one who spreads gossip [Vayikra, 19:17].
Lo telech rachil
b'amecha - Do not be a tale-bearer among your people. You shall
not stand idly by [when] the blood (life) of your fellow [is in
danger]. I am Ad-noy.
The word is
rachil and its closest [Biblical/Mishnaic] analog
is rochel, [merchant].
Our commentaries struggle to understand the simple meaning of
the word rachil and its connection to the act of gossip.
We also seek to understand the apparently random connection
between the 1st part of the verse and the 2nd
section [do not stand idly by...]
First, please note that the rachil is different than the
lashon hara speaker in that he does not make up the story - he
cross-pollinates, i.e. he spreads the word.
Now, we present Rashi's novel derivative :
I say that [that the word rachil refers to tale-bearing
because all those who cause arguments and speak slander
go to their friends'
houses to spy what evil they can see, or whatever evil they can
hear, to tell it in the marketplace, [thus] they are called
"those who go around tale-bearing"- those who go around spying,
The word spy [merageil] derives from regel - [as in using
one's feet to get to the place to find out]. How does that
connect to the word rachil?
I say that the
expression rachil [means] "going about and spying," since the
kof interchanges with the gimmel, for all letters whose source
is one place [In the mouth or throat. ] interchange
one with the other: beis with peih, gimmel with kof and kuf ,
nun with lammed, and zayin with tzaddi,
Words that connect through interchangeable letters bind the spy
and the merchant - but wherein lay the logical connection?
The rochel , "a peddler," who travels and spies out
merchandise, [and so [too] one who sells spices [to women] with
which to adorn themselves, because he constantly goes around
villages--- is called a rochel denoting who is merageil
["one who spies. ]
The gossiper is like the Biblical merchant in that he is
constantly collecting goods, he deals in gossip and he is
constantly looking for frsh produce. Indeed , this appears to be
Rambam's emphasis as well: [Deios 7:1-2]
עובר בלא תעשה שנאמר לא תלך רכיל בעמיך, ואע"פ שאין לוקין על דבר
זה עון גדול הוא וגורם להרוג נפשות רבות מישראל, לכך נסמך לו ולא
תעמוד על דם רעך, צא ולמד מה אירע לדואג האדומי.
אי זהו רכיל זה שטוען דברים והולך מזה
לזה ואומר כך אמר פלוני כך וכך שמעתי על פלוני אע"פ שהוא אמת הרי
זה מחריב את העולם
A person who
collects gossip about a colleague violates a prohibition as
[Leviticus 19:16] states: "Do not go around
gossiping among your people." Even though this transgression is
not punished by lashes, it is a severe sin and can cause the
death of many Jews.
Rambam [and Ibn Ezra] successfully forge the connection between
the 2 pieces of the pasuk:
Therefore, [the warning]: "Do not stand still over your
neighbor's blood" is placed next to it in the Torah [ibid.]. See
what happened [because of] Doeg, the Edomite.
Ramban, however rejects Rashi's regel connection and finds a
different basis of comparison between the peddler and gossiper:
In Hebrew they called the gossiper those who walk as a
peddler [ "the powder of the rochel"] - for the rochel walks
the whole day and buys from here and there and sells to other
places as the rabbis teach of the peddler who sells goes around
to the cities and thus the text says " in your nation" [for
it is his way to go amongst the masses]
For Ramban, the rachil is like the rochel in that
he peddles: the rochel deals in items and the rachil
Ramban's focus is not the digging, but the spreading.
One might add that it is not simply the spreading that defines
the rachil: it is the almost business like pursuit
upon which the gossiper is focused upon his trade. His
systematic goal to spread ill will and muck and he is very
professional in his efforts and tactics. He might have a few
blogs [with Hebrew writing] and leave a few choice comments; he
is pernicious and effective.
One final step - a Ramban gem, brings it home. Ramban wonders
why the rochel, the merchant is in the verb
[turned noun (gerund) form while the rachil is cast as
To distinguish between the two, [the merchant and the
gossiper], the merchant is the verb and the gossiperis the
name hints that it is in his soul and to it he shall return
The merchant does sales, that is his parnasa; the gossiper
finds and spreads lashon hara - that is his life. It is not
simply a vocation, it is nebach an essential definition-
a distorted life's calling.
In a muckraking, yellow journalist, scandal a minute world, we
must remind ourselves and our children/students of world of the
pristine Jewish mouth and the higher ethic of shemiras halashon
- a world where words elevate, conversations ennoble and speech
confirms our Tzelem Elokim [our Divine image, cf. Onkelos,
Good Shabbos, Asher Brander
 The word appears only once in Chumash , twice in
Mishlei and Yirmiyahu and once in Yechezkel
 Cf. Shir Hashirim [3:6]
 Cf. Rambam [Deios, 7] who seems to distinguish
between the one who speaks lashon hara and the master of