In this week’s Parsha, Tazria Metzorah, we find how severe the sin of lashon hara is. Lashon hara is the sin of speaking gossip which at it’s lowest level damages a person’s reputation in the eyes of at least one person. When one spoke lashon hara he contracted tzaraas, a severe skin disease the resembled leprosy. This disease did not find its cause in a physical disorder but rather a spiritual disorder. It rendered the speaker tamei, spiritually impure and he was required to live outside the community. If anyone wished to visit him he was required to in- form them that they should keep their distance.
The therapy by which one cured himself of tzaraas was by doing teshuvah, repentance. Teshuvah required the speaker to receive forgiveness from the two individuals whom he wronged. Those two individuals are HaKadosh baruch Hu and the subject of the lashon hara. He wronged HaShem by disobeying His law. He wronged the subject by degrading him in front of others. It is interesting to note that even if the subject will never find out about this lashon hara, he must still be asked for forgiveness! If however, the listener of the lashon re- fused to believe the gossip and he did not share the report with anyone else then the speaker does not need to ask the subject for forgiveness because no harm was done.
I find this remarkable. If the listener accepted the lashon hara and thereby thinks less of the subject even though he does not share this report with anyone else, it is considered that dam- age was done to the subject. This is true even if the subject will never know about it and no- body else will ever know about it. Behold! The Torah recognizes the damage of one Jew’s reputation being downgraded in the eyes of another Jew, even though nobody else will ever know!
We can appreciate why the Torah forbade us from speaking lashon hara but why is the con- sequence so severe? We do not find this kind of consequence for most other transgressions. What is it about lashon hara that it is so damaging. Especially given that the damage is almost non-existent; only in the eyes of the listener – nobody else.