“I heard it through the grapevine…People say believe half of what you see, son, and none of what you hear…” These are the words of a 1968 song sung by Marvin Gaye…and a point of discussion in our sixth grade Advisory this week. This lesson was part of their unit on Bullying and Social Exclusion as it focused on the harm of gossip and spreading rumors. One of the L.E.A.D.E.R.S. strategies the students learn about is “Rumors stop with me.” We discussed why people gossip, the harm it can inflict, and what we can do to stop the cycle. Through a humorous video by Netsmartz, we also discussed how gossip and spreading rumors is so much more powerful in the age of texting and internet. These are some things we asked them to think about:
1. When you hear something you have the urge to pass on don’t think about whether or not it’s true. Think about:
- Why do I want to pass this on?
- Would I want people to know this kind of information about me?
- How will this person feel if he/she knows this information will be spread?
- Will spreading this rumor reduce his status or cause exclusion?
2. Make the rumor stop with you. Take a stand.
3. Don’t be an audience. “I’m not interested. Thanks.”
4. Respect privacy. If it’s private, don’t spread it.
Our 7th and 8th graders also experienced the power of gossip when Ms. Debbie Nehmad came to speak to them on Wednesday. She shared her first- hand story of how she was in 8th grade and through a chat group, gossip was spread about her and made her an outcast. For 1 ½ years she experienced bullying and social exclusion in person and on the web, which even followed her to her new high school. She shared the terrible emotional state she was in and how she even began to believe that the way she was being treated by others was actually how she deserved to be treated. Debbie shared her story with the students as a reminder of how powerful their actions can be, even if their intention is to “make a joke” or only inflict a “little” harm. There was an overwhelming reaction from the students. They had numerous questions to ask, and when she left they shared with me what an impact she made on them. Here was a real-life person who experienced such pain and actualized for them much of which they learn about in Advisory.
In thinking about it, I believe that focusing on the harmful effects of gossip was perfectly timed to occur the week before Pesach. In essence, gossip or Lashon Hara is what brought us to Mitzrayim in the first place. In the Haggadah it describes that Yaakov went down to Egypt “Anus al pi hadibbur.” We usually translate those words as “compelled by the Divine decree.” In a haggadah called the Commentator’s Haggadah , by Yitzchak Sender, he quotes the Maggid of Plotzk, (a student of the Vilna Gaon), from the Siddur Shaar Rachamim, to explain these words differently. He says that the words al pi hadibbur mean “because of the words/speech” of Lashon Hara that Yoseph spoke against his brothers. He adds that Yoseph got the sin for speaking it and Yaakov sinned by listening to it. (Which is an interesting point to share with our children. We encourage them not to pass on gossip. How about not listening to it in the first place!) The Maggid says that the punishment for this Lashon Hara was the exile in Egypt.
In 2008, it was also was a Jewish leap year. Rabbi Mayer Twerski pointed out then that this allowed the parshiot of Tazria and Metzora- parshiot that deal with the halachot of tzara’at (a leprosy- like disease), which was a punishment for speaking Lashon Hara, to be closer to Pesach. It is very fitting that we focus on the sin of Lashon Hara and its consequences before Pesach, as he also states that the exile of Mitzrayim was caused and prolonged by Lashon Hara. He refers too to the Lashon Hara of Yoseph. He then quotes another proof from Shemot 2:14. After Moshe killed the Egyptian he then sees two Jews fighting and tries to stop them. One of the Jews says, “Are you going to kill us like you killed the Egyptian?” The pasuk then states that Moshe was afraid, since “…behold the matter is known.” The pshat is that the matter was now known that Moshe killed the Egyptian. The Midrash says something different. Moshe had been wondering what terrible sins the Jews had committed to be worthy of such slavery. Now he understood! Clearly people had been gossiping about the crime he had committed. This nation was full of people who speak Lashon hara. How will they ever be redeemed?
Rabbi Frand quotes the Chofetz Chayim on this puzzling Midrash. We know the Jews had sunk to the 49th level of impurity- why could Moshe not figure out the cause of their exile? The Chofetz Chaim states that Lashon Hara is THE sin that causes G-d to not to be able to overlook all of our other sins. “If you focus on the negative, I will focus on the negative as well.” The way we judge others is the way G-d judges us. Once Lashon Hara was prevalent among the Jews, He could not overlook their other sins, and they were worthy of Exile.
In fact, this issue of Lashon Hara appears elsewhere when Moshe received his mission from G-d. Moshe was worried no one would believe him and Hashem told him to do three signs before Pharaoh when he first came to him- To turn a staff into a snake, the water into blood and place his hand in his bosom and remove it and it would be full of tzara’at. But, that last sign of tzara’at was not shown to the Egyptians. Why? Hashem said to Moshe that it should be a sign for “you.” Rashi 4:6 comments why the tzara’at? “A hint for Moshe that he spoke Lashon Hara about the Jews when he said, “They will not listen to me.’” (A snake also often represents Lashon Hara- a loose tongue).
In these days before Pesach as we clean our house from Chametz, we also need to cleanse ourselves from bad character traits and sin. Gossip causes much pain on the interpersonal level and on the national level. This past week, our middle schoolers had the opportunity to think about how they can prevent bullying and gossip, and how they can bring the Redemption one step closer.
L’shana haba’a b’Yerushalayim!
6th Grade- Focused on the topic of gossip in today’s world of technology.
7th Grade- As part of their political action unit “Do Not Stand Idly By” they have learned about the BDS movement that threatens Israel and the role they can play.
8th Grade- As part of unit on The Changing Parent-Child Relationship in Adolescence they discussed, “What if they could switch places with their parents?” Would we understand each other better? What issues is the other facing?