The power of the spoken word is enormous. Even more powerful is the desire to gossip, a vice that has been perfected in our own times, when we have people who earn their livelihood by providing the latest scoop of gossip. To state that Judaism demands restraint in speech would be to understate the case. Just a quick glance of the al chets said on Yom Kippur will reveal just how central is the theme of speech.
Sefer Bamidbar describes not only the physical locale of the Jewish people, but their spiritual state. Wandering in the desert, they could not be self sufficient, neither physically nor spiritually. The book, like the desert, is one depressing story after another. While Bamidbar makes for fascinating reading and its lessons are crucial for community building, for those in the desert, little came of their aimless wandering.
Our Rabbis saw a link between the spiritual sin of lashon hara, slander and gossip, and the physical disease of tzara'at. At the dawn of redemption from Egypt , Moshe was afflicted with this disease for speaking negatively about the Jewish people: "But they will not believe me" (Shemot 4:1), he mistakenly claimed. Nation-building cannot take place when unsubstantiated, not to mention false, statements are made against fellow Jews.
The home plays a critical—if not the critical—role in the development of Jewish life. The efforts of schools, shuls, camps, Israel trips, and the like are unlikely to have major lasting impact if the messages of Jewish living are not reinforced at home. Passover, the holiday that laid the foundation for Jewish nationhood, is thus centred around the home. It is interesting to note that chapter twelve in Exodus, which describes the lead-up to the Exodus and our formation as a people, contains the word bayit (home) no less than twelve times.