At this time of year, we have a sense of urgency in regard to eradicating baseless hatred (sinas chinam). To this end, many of us focus on the prohibition of speaking “loshen hara”. It seems to me that our generation was blessed with an awareness of the severity of this issue as never before. Yet there are aspects of speech that are sometimes overlooked and worthwhile mentioning. The Torah tells us (Devarim 2:9): “…do not provoke Moav…”. Rashi comments, that it was only forbidden to engage Moav in war, but we were permitted to frighten or threaten them. This was not the case with Amon – we were not even permitted to put them in distress. The reason for this is because the mother of Moav was not modest when she named her son, publicly stating that he was born of her own father (מוֹאָב=מֵאָב), whereas the mother of Amon was more modest and only hinted at the relationship (בֶּן עַמִּי the son of my people) (See Rashi Breishis 19:37).
There is another time we find in Rashi (2:5) that Lot was given reward for not talking, and telling people that Sarah was Avraham’s wife. This idea – to be quiet and not to comment – is sometimes more difficult than to speak without saying loshen hara. It is specifically when one remains silent when being goaded into an argument or provoked, that Chazal tell us that the whole world is worthy to exist just for him (Chillin 89A).
While the popular mitzvah seems to be refraining from loshen hara, it seems to me that if someone wants to accumulate merits he should also consider not responding, or not just adding something ‘interesting’ to the conversation.
I saw once an explanation on the mishneh in Pirkei Avos siyag lichachma shtika (a fence for wisdom is silence). The question is asked “What is the real wisdom?” The answer I saw was, that a Jew should work on himself to come to the level where even when others say negative things about him, he would not feel the need to respond.
The gemara in Chullin (60b) tells us that the moon (thinking he will rise above the sun) told Hashem that it is not a good idea to have two great powers of light. Hashem said “You are right and you should make yourself smaller.” We see that through the sun remaining silent, he achieved his role of prominence. It is no coincidence that the first mitzvah we do after Tisha B’av is Kiddush Levana, reminding us the value of keeping quiet.
May we merit to turn a deaf ear to those who try to provoke us and engage us in all kinds of improper speech, thus meriting great blessings from Hashem.