by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
"Do not go around as a talebearer (Rakhil) among your people..." [19:16]
Rashi says that "those who engage in rumor-mongering and loshon hara go to
friends' homes to spy out whatever negative things they might see or hear,
in order that they might talk about them to others." So gossiping is
connected with moving about -- and also with spying. We see the obvious
connection between the Rakhil, the tale-bearer, and the Rokhel, the peddler
-- Rashi also exchanges the letter khaf for a gimmel and refers to the
Meragel, the spy.
Spying and Lashon Hara are deeply intertwined - a "snoop" is both a spy and
a gossip. In both cases, the person is motivated to know and control
information that isn't "his business." A gossip, like a spy, has no respect
In our parsha, we discuss many sorts of boundaries. One must respect his
neighbor's property, avoiding thievery or stealing, and paying wages when
due. In the beginning of our parsha, G-d says "You shall be Holy" [19:2],
and Rashi comments "you shall withdraw from immoral sexual relationships --
for wherever you find sexual _boundaries_ [emphasis ours], you find
Holiness, such as [in reference to the Kohanim, the priests] 'a prostitute
or a defiled woman they will not take [as wives]... I am HaShem, Who
A person must recognize boundaries, and honor them. This is my business,
this is my affair -- and this, on the other hand, is not. It isn't mine to
take, to investigate, to talk about, to desire -- it is my neighbor's, may
he be happy with it. This attitude must govern every element of our lives,
from the way we talk, to the way we do business, to our personal relationships.
The Talmud says in Sotah [9b] that in the Garden of Eden, "The snake set
his eyes on what was not meant to be his [Chava, Eve] -- the result was
that what he wanted was not given to him, and what he already had [his
feet] was taken away from him..."
The snake sinned through Lashon Hara, through evil speech (about G-d
Himself, Medrash Rabba Breishis 20:1). Why? Because he desired what was not
meant to be his. In both ways, the snake failed to respect the boundaries
circumscribing what was or could be his -- and his punishment was that
something which was indeed his own was taken away.
Let us learn from the mistakes of the snake!