One of the greatest figures in early-twentieth century Jewish life was a modest rabbi known as the “Chafetz Chaim” (Translation: He who desires life), in honor of his first published work. His real name was Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagen, and he lived from 1838-1933.
The Chafetz Chaim’s achievements during his lifetime were legion, and he was highly active in Jewish affairs across Europe. He was the founder of the great yeshiva in Radin and he helped establish Agudath Yisrael (Organization for Torah Judaism). He was also the author of the Mishna Berurah, a commentary on the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law).
However, the Chafetz Chaim is best known for his campaign against Loshan Harah, wicked speech. The Chafetz Chaim realized that people had grown lax about watching their words and careless about what they chose to discuss. Speaking badly about another person, whether maliciously or not, is extremely destructive. Lashon Harah is often compared to an arrow. Once the words have been released, they cannot be recalled. When gossip is unleashed, the repercussions can never be undone.
The Chafetz Chaim spent a lifetime dissecting and explaining the complex rules regarding proper speech.
Next time you visit the proverbial water cooler, keep Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagen in mind, and please think before you speak!