The Jerusalem Kollel
May 31, 2006

Feature - Shmiras Halashon:
(Based on the lectures of Rabbi Yitzchak Berkovitz)

Today, most progressive societies have laws against libel. The Torah provides us with a similar set of laws referred to as ďLashon HaraĒ. However, there are essential differences between the two. Loshan Hara is not slander. It is to express negativity Ö even if totally accurate.

The source of this prohibition is "lo telech rachil". "Lo telech"- do not walk, "rachil"- an adverb that seems to have been concocted by the Torah, borrowing from the word 'salesman'. A rachil is a traveling salesman. 'Donít walk around like a salesman' is the message. The Torah is actually poking fun at a fellow who sees himself as the town crier. "Do you know what he did?" "Do you know what I heard?" The verse is ridiculing him. This is a bit out of character for a classic like the Bible; one would have expected something a little more formal. The Torah is indeed making fun of him. The Torah is making a point.

In several of our sources, in regards to the attitude from which Lashon Hara stems, the following parable is related. A wise man and his students pass the body of a dead dog. The students comment on the foul odor. The wise man replies, "But look at how white the teeth are!"

As human beings created in the image of G-d, we should not focus on the shortcomings of others. It is beneath us to constantly focus on the negative. The prohibition isnít "donít defame" or "donít slander". We should not be Mr. Negative. The prohibition is to avoid focusing on the bad. Donít constantly look for other peopleís faults. See the positive. This doesnít mean be naÔve. What it does mean is don't unnecessarily center on faults. It is far more mature to ignore the obviously negative than to comment on it.

There are times when such comments are necessary--to point out to others an unknown menace to society. That isnít negative; thatís constructive.

The Torah is poking fun at the gossipmonger who can think of nothing better to discuss than ďDo you know what he didĒ? The Torah is telling us we are above this. Donít focus on the negative unnecessarily. Be a big person. See the good.

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Field Update:
Rabbi Chanan Spivak has been in the Jerusalem Kollel for nearly four years. He is leaving the kollel to join a team of Jewish outreach professionals in Portland, Oregon.

Jerusalem Kollel Newsletter: You have been such a pillar in the Kollel for so long now, what is it that makes you want to leave your home here in Jerusalem for a city you have only visited once?

Rabbi Chanan Spivak: Well, I have learned a lot here in the Kollel. I feel that I have grown so much from my studies here. Judaism has really changed my life and I want to share what Iíve discovered.

JKN: For instance?

RCN: I guess one example would be the guidelines we learn about how to treat each other. It truly changes ones personal relationships. There are so many things that are simple once you hear themÖ but to study them in depth and within an organized system is fantastic.

JKN: And why does that send you to Oregon?

RCN: (laughing) Good question. The more I learn and gain the more I feel responsible to share. I have matured a lot here in the Kollel and Rabbi Berkovitz speaks often about out responsibility to the entire nation. So many Jews know nothing of their heritage. I want to try and give people a taste of what Judaism is all about. I have become so rich here; I feel itís time to give.

JKN: How would you describe your relationship with Rabbi Berkovitz?

RCN: He is certainly getting harder to catch, the more people realize who he really is. He is such a warm and wise person everyone want a piece. He speaks in such positive terms of what each of us can do itís hard not to have a chord or two struck. If I could pick two words I would say pleasantly passionate.

JKN: Well best of luck to you there.

RCN: Thanks; there is a lot to do.

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News - Birthright:

I know they say they best way to learn something is to teach it- but I'm not sure who taught whom more.

A few weeks ago a fine group of college students on the Birthright Israel trip came to learn with us in the Kollel for a few days. They came from a wide spectrum of backgrounds and wanted to see what our Torah was all about.

Our Rebbe, Rabbi Yitzchak Berkovitz, prepared a special curriculum focusing on the laws and attitudes the Torah prescribes regarding treatment of our fellow man-something that everyone can relate to. We studied about when and how to give the benefit of the doubt and the importance of honoring our parents. At the end of each course of study, Rabbi Berkovitz gave a casual lecture explaining where the Torah was really coming from and how to apply it to our daily lives. I will never stop being amazed by both his clarity and his ability to reach any person coming from any background.

Usually, here at the Kollel, we spend most of our day immersed in challenging and technical Talmud study, to develop the needed skills. An appreciation of its depth can take many years.

I was blown away by the way these guys took to it. The material really spoke to them and their involvement reached a level of passion I couldn't have imagined. The walls of any classroom would be jealous to contain the thirst for learning all thirty of us reached that week.

Being so familiar to the methodology of Talmud and surrounded by those who study, it can make one wonder what the new student will really be able to absorb. I definitely learned my lesson.