Rabbi Shimon Kessin
We are responsible for the suffering and tragedies that befell us
What dawns on us at this point is a thought so terrifying that it should cause us to shake and tremble. The tragedies and catastrophes of the last two thousand years didn’t have to happen! The blood and gore that fills the pages of Jewish history could have been prevented or at least substantially diminished. If we as a people had truly grasped what our Chazal saw so clearly back then and if we had only taken their admonitions seriously, then how many Jewish lives could have been saved. If we had only realized that it is the way that we are judged, either with strict justice or with mercy, and not the fact that we are judged that is responsible for our tragedies, then how much Jewish suffering could have been averted.
Woe unto us as a people for having ignored the prescriptions of our spiritual advisors and instead followed our own ineffective remedies. We have betrayed ourselves because we have ignored the voice of Hashem speaking out to us in every generation saying, “Hear Me, My children. I can save you from your sins even though I must judge them because I have great compassion and mercy but this is only so if you do not oppose it. Desist from your jealousies, conflicts, hatreds and Loshon Hora and I will silence all of your accusers and protect you under My wings. My great mercy is yours to take. Don’t turn it away!”
The reason why Loshon Hora affects the Jews more severely than the gentiles
At this point you may ask a very important question. If the Loshon Hora of the Jews is so damaging, what about the Loshon Hora of the non Jews, since they speak just as much, if not more of it? Why doesn’t their Loshon Hora have the same damaging effect on their destiny? Specifically, in the comparison with the Chinese cited before, why have the Chinese been able to override the damage of their Loshon Hora and produced a population of over a billion people whereas the Jews were unable to do so and they thereby diminished their numbers to a fraction of what they should have been?
The answer to this question points to the amazing spiritual level of the Jews in contrast to all the other peoples of the world. When Yitzchok Avinu blessed Yaakov, he said “the voice is the voice of Yaakov (it sounded like Yaakov’s voice) but the hands are the hands of Eisav (he felt like Eisav to the touch)”. On the simple level, Yitzchok was confused as to the identity of the son who was before him.
The power of the Gentiles lies in their hands
On a deeper level, Yitzchok Avinu was saying something very profound. He was describing the essential difference between Yaakov’s descendants, the Jews, and Eisav’s descendants, the gentiles. He was describing their power centers. In order for the gentiles to succeed in the physical world, they must use their hands, that is, they must do something physically. In order for the Jews to succeed in the physical world, they must use their voice, that is, they can rely on simply saying something, meaning, they can rely on their prayers to Hashem and He will enable them to succeed by his direct intervention into physical reality.
The power of the Jews lies in their mouths and their prayer
When the gentiles want to succeed at war they must use the brute force of their hands or use physical technology. The Jews, because of the power of their mouth, can utter a series of prayers and vanquish the enemy through Hashem’s intervention. There are many examples of this ability as seen in the battle of Gideon44 and in the battle of King Chizkiyah against the Assyrians when they surrounded Jerusalem45. King David clearly points to this ability when he says: “These rely upon chariots and these rely upon horses but we – in the name of Hashem, our G-d, we call out. They slumped and fell, but we arose and were invigorated”46. The unique ability of the Jews to stir reality with the power of their mouths and prayers as opposed to their hands alludes to their extraordinary spiritual elevation. This is why the Torah obligates them for 613 commandments. The gentiles, who must rely on actual physical intervention by their hands are not so elevated and are therefore only obligated to the seven commandments of the sons of Noach.
Loshon Hora damages the Jews only weapon: their mouths and prayers
The ability of the Jews to employ the power of the mouth is an exalted one but nevertheless, it is also a precarious one since it can easily be compromised and damaged. It can be damaged by indulging in the prohibitive actions regarding the mouth, Loshon Hora and Rechilus, which can contaminate this instrument and render it ineffective.
The fact is that Loshon Hora is a two edged sword and is thus very dangerous for the Jews. It empowers the Satan to accuse them in the heavenly court of Justice and produce from these accusations serious consequences in the form of decrees that can affect their destiny. This is one edge of the sword. The other edge of the sword is that Loshon Hora diminishes and erodes the power center of the Jews, their mouths and prayers, thereby preventing them from protecting themselves from the very selfsame accusations of The Satan that they previously empowered. Gradually, the ensuing decrees from the heavenly court of Justice descend upon them because their prayers are now very weak47. They are trapped in a vise constructed by their own speech. They become vulnerable and can eventually be victimized by all the gentile nations of the world, even the lowest among them.
Chazal warned us not to erode our power center through Loshon Hora
Chazal clearly knew this and warned us during the destruction of the second Bais Hamikdash. They understood that the Jews were eroding their power center through Loshon Hora and that once lost, they would be at the mercy of their numerous enemies for the rest of their history. Even more ominously, they knew that this loss could not be compensated because the Jews could not usurp from the gentiles the power of the hands since it was never their entitlement to begin with. Without the power of the mouth and without the power of the hands, the Jews would have nothing. The result is two thousand years of blood soaked history.
The gentiles can retain their power even while indulging in Loshon Hora
The gentiles are also damaged by their Loshon Hora. However, since their power center lies in their hands and not in their mouths, their main power is not affected and the damage to their mouths is considered only secondary. That is why, despite their Loshon Hora, the Chinese can proliferate to a population of a billion people. That is why every gentile nation is more powerful than a Jewish nation that indulges in Loshon Hora because at least they retain the power of their hands while the Jews lose everything.
The Jews have eroded this power because of their Loshon Hora and their talking in shul
The erosion of the power of the Jews continues until this very day. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, we are still sadly engrossed in the sin of Loshon Hora. Our mouths and our prayers cannot be truly repaired until this sin is gradually eliminated or at least reduced. Secondly, our attitude about our shuls and our activities therein undermine us in a powerful way48. There is simply too much idle talk in shul at the time of prayer and this erodes our power center substantially.
The Shuls are our arsenal headquarters and central command stations
If the power of the Jews is in their mouths and prayers, then their synagogues and houses of worship are their arsenal headquarters and central command stations. It is an absolute truth before Hashem, that the power of a synagogue at the time of prayer is greater than the power of the nuclear arsenals of the gentile nations. This seems incredible but everything in the Torah’s view points to this conclusion. The power of Hashem is greater than anything and that which evokes this power is the most powerful instrument of all, without exception. Since the Jews, through their prayers, excel in this ability, their power is superior to all others. Given this truth, what should be their behavior in their synagogues at the time of prayer? Clearly it should be with the greatest respect and dignity considering the power that their prayers have to influence reality.
Proper behavior in Shul at the time of prayer
What actually occurs? There is a great deal of talking and incessant chatter and many times it is actually Loshon Hora49. We have all seen rabbis plead with their congregations to remain quiet. The spiritual damage to the Jews because of this is incalculable50. What must Hashem see in such cases? He sees a people who were given the greatest power of all, yet sadly he sees them disregard this gift and even trample upon it. He sees a blind people unable to see that, from their mouths, ensue the mightiest forces of existence, forces far greater than that which can proceed from the armaments of all the nations of the world. When will we learn? When will we purify our mouths and become once again the nation Hashem intended us to be, a spiritually clean and holy people capable of moving Heaven and Earth with the mere breath of our mouths?