Lashon HaRa

Many people that come out of pagan practices and into a Torah observant life through teshuva (repentance), choose to take on a Hebrew name for themselves based on Proverbs 22:1.  Isolated, it appears that this is a correct interpretation of the passage, and there was a time when I interpretted the same way. There are several limited examples in the body of scripture where Elohim gave someone a new name: Abram:Abraham, Sarai:Sarah, Jacob:Israel, etc... And there are others within the Midrashim.

Proverbs (Mishle) 22:
1 A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold.

In reality, many people have good "names" given to them by their parents.  Very few do not.  An Israeli rabbi I spoke with several years ago pointed outto my the he did not understand why all these people wanted to change their names when they already had Hebrew names to begin with.  They already had names that had Hebrew origins and meanings behind them given to them by their parents.  Although, many believed their names to be Greek or Roman, and that is a base motivation to change them,
there are often sources of those names that predate those cultures.  For instance, Bruce is derived from Baruch - meaning blessed.  Even my name, which appears to be of Swedish origin, carries a meaning of "Soon to be king" or "Prince" and my surname means "People of sand", which upon deeper investigation was an ornimental surname adopted by Israelites (Northern kingdom) and Jews (Southern kingdom) in the diaspora in that region.  yet, I have a pen name that I use as well which is Hebrew meaning "Branch of Jacob"...

However, a previous passage actually gives more context to this verse than may be derived from isolation:

Proverbs (Mishle) 10:
6 Blessings are upon the head of the righteous; but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.
7 The memory of the righteous shall be for a blessing; but the name of the wicked shall rot.

Verse 6 Speaks of the righteous and the wicked, and Verse 7, contextually speaks of reputation.  This is a reputation that is remembered after the death of the person.  This may extend to family honor in that a good family name within a community needs to be maintained, and is built on the foundation of those who have already passed, but is a blessing to those who are to come.  What a blessing it is to go into a community, and someone says, "I knew your father, he was a good man".  Already, that righteous reputation, and the privileges associated with it, have been conferred to you before you have done anything.  Indeed, the opposite can also hold true - which is a challenge to undo.

Proverbs (Mishle) 10:
11 The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life; but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.
12 Hatred stirs up strifes; but love covers all transgressions.
13 In the lips of him that has discernment wisdom is found; but a rod is for the back of him that is void of understanding.
14 Wise men lay up knowledge; but the mouth of the foolish is an imminent ruin.

In the above passages from Proverbs 10, we see that those who commit evil speech are considered wicked.  Their use of words conceals violence, spreads strife, and is often done because they have not investigated a matter fully (V.14) but rather lack understanding and judge based on that.  Indeed, they may think they have investigated the matter, but because of preconceived ideas, or a teacher with a bias that they are under, they have not truly investigated nor understood the matter.  Instead, they stir up strife.

An example:
I remember that decades ago I was under the belief that men's headcoverings, ie a Kippah, was of Babylonian origin.  A symbol of a Sun god.  Some of Paul's writings appear to support this as well.  Indeed, a cap similar to a Kippah was worn in Babylon, and is worn today within all three major Abrahamic faiths within different sects.  So, because it is worn by those whom many in the Torah observant communities believe to be pagan, then this must be so.  Indeed, there are those who have been raised in Judaism that believe that the Jewish tradition of wearing a Kippah originated in Spain during the middle ages.   However, a close examination of scripture shows that there is a Hemispherical headcovering worn by the priests, instituted during the Exodus, called a Migba'ah.   And although we are called to be a nation of Kings and Priests, there may be no direct command for all of Israel to wear this covering and it may only apply to the Levites and the decendants of Aharon.  There are several additional things that must be considered.  Under Messiah, we fall back to the order of Melkizadeck. This resets the priesthood to some extent to the whole nation again, with Messiah being our King and high priest.  Under this priesthood, all men may be required to wear a covering.  As far as it existing in Babylon, well... Of course it did.  Under direction of the king the priests and people of that nation were specifically directed on more than one occasion to worship the God of Dani'el, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abendigo.  It would be expected that things the Jewish/Israelite people were doing in worhip of their Elohim would be adopted by the Babylonians and seen in their historic records.  Indeed, many things from Judaism have been adopted by many pagan cultures and religions over the centuries because they see the manifestation of the power of YHWH and attribute that manifestation to those specific practices.  That doesn't make the practice bad, but rather may validate it further.  Surely, pagans wear shoes just as the righteous do... Yet, the righteous would be fools to cast off their shoes because they saw a pagan using them.

Proverbs (Mishle) 22:
1 A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold.
2 The rich and the poor meet together--YHWH is the maker of them all.
3 A prudent man sees the evil, and hides himself; but the thoughtless pass on, and are punished.
4 The reward of humility is the fear of YHWH, even riches, and honour, and life.
5 Thorns and snares are in the way of the froward; he that keeps his soul holds himself far from them.
6 Train up a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old, he will not depart from it.

When we look at Proverbs 22 and look beyond Vers 1, and continue through verse 6, we can see a fuller context of the passage.  Within the context, a good name is equated with reputation, as it was in chapter 10.  It is more important than wealth.  Our Creator is the Creator of both the wealth and the poor, so we are equal in His eyes.  Verse 3 is very important in the context of reputation.  In the case of Lashon HaRa (Evil speech), a prudent man, or some may say a righteous man in context, when he sees or hears evil, removes himself from it.  It is wise, and proper when someone is denigrating another, whether true or not, to walk away and refuse to participate.  In fact, it clearly states in the thoughtless person not only listens to the evil speech, but repeats it to others and is later punished for it.  Punished?  Well... Punishment within context is most specifically to their own reputation.  In effect, they are NOT choosing a good name for themselves.  Within mainstream jewish thought, the participants of Lashon HaRa are committing 3 murders.  The speaker is killing themselves and the target by their evil speech. The listener is doing the same.  Together they conspire to destroy the reputation of the target - whether the statements are true or not. Within the context, the froward person engages in these things, and may even seek them out.  And they become complicated and twisted just as thorns and snares, eventually trapping the person.  But you shield your soul by staying away from such things.  Having a reputation as a gossip within a community is a reputation of distrust.

This leads us to Verse 6, which gets broadly generalized, but within the context is specifically speaking of Lashon HaRa. If you teach your children to gossip, by your example, they will follow in your footsteps. If you teach them to hold their tongue, they will avoid such matters.  By our example as parents, our children will repeat many of our mistakes, and successes.  Even our reputation with them falls within the scope of these passages.

Ecclesiastes (Kohelet) 7:
1 A good name is better than precious oil; and the day of death than the day of one's birth.

Why would Solomon say this?  Because when you start life, you must strive to build a good name for yourself, for your family, for your community, even for you Elohim.  That reputation is built on that of your predicessors in most cases.  Through out life there will always be those who will work to undo that good name, usually trying to build theirs by tearing down others.  Once life is over, the only thing that is left in this world is the mark that you left, the reputation you are known by, and the reputation your descendants build from that. 

Proverbs 13:
20 He that walks with wise men shall be wise; but the companion of fools shall smart for it.
21 Evil pursues sinners; but to the righteous good shall be repaid.

The above is similar to an idiom that is found in many cultures:  "You are known by the company you keep."  A companion of fools, or gossips in context of our discussion, will be known as the same.  As stated already in Proverbs 22:5, it is a snare and trap to participate in it, and in 13:21, it is an evil that pursues.   However, those that avoid it, that seek righteousness, they shall be repaid.  This implies that if you are the target of such things, do not succoumb to them, but your reputation will be restored when the matter is thoroughly investigated, but those that sought to harm you will become tarnished.

There is a story that appears to have originated within Judaism, that has since expanded out to other communities on this topic that I encourage all to read and consider A-Pillow-Full-of-Feathers

It is easy to kill with words.  It is harder to walk away from the executioner, to preserve and defend someones character.  The words of gossip tickle the ears, but brings entrapment and punishment.  Teshuva (repentance) of this particular evil is almost impossible.  Once you have scattered the pain, it is often repeated, the scope of damage is lost and can never be undone.  It is physically impossible to undo the damage later on because it is no longer within your control.

So, choose a good name for yourself.  Be righteous.  Avoid the evil and entrapments of Lashon HaRa(evil speech).  Do not condemn yourself to seeking out feathers you can never find.

Shalom.

The Sages have said:

I may remark then, that our Rabbis with one voice accept and affirm the opinion that the prophet is speaking of the King Messiah, and we ourselves shall adhere to the same view.

Rabbi Mosheh El-Sheikh

[Rabbi Mosheh El-Sheikh regarding Yesha’yahu 53 in the Tanakh]