וַיְמָֽרֲרֻ֖הוּ וָרֹ֑בּוּ וַיִּשְׂטְמֻ֖הוּ בַּֽעֲלֵ֥י חִצִּֽים
And they piled hatred upon him (Yosef) and archers hated him. Bereishis 49:23
The Midrash explains this cryptic reference to archers in the bracha of Yosef.
וַיִּשְׂטְמֻהוּ בַּעֲלֵי חִצִּים, אֵלּוּ בַּעֲלֵי מְחִצָּתוֹ שֶׁהִשְׁלִיכוּ עָלָיו דְּבָרִים קָשִׁים כְּחֵץ,… וּמָה רָאָה לְמָשְׁלָן בְּחֵץ מִכָּל כְּלֵי זַיִן, אֶלָּא כָּל כְּלֵי זַיִן מַכִּין בִּמְקוֹמָם וְזֶה מַכֶּה מֵרָחוֹק, כָּךְ הוּא לָשׁוֹן הָרָע דְּאָמוּר בְּרוֹמִי וְקָטֵיל בְּסוּרְיָא
“And archers hated him” these are the associates (of Yosef) who cast at him words as harsh as arrows… and why is it fitting to compare (lashon hora) to arrows as opposed to all other weapons? Because all other weapons strike in the place where they are and this (an arrow) strikes further away. So too lashon hora that is spoken in Rome can kill someone in Syria.
The Shaarei Teshuvah expands upon the analogy of lashon hora to arrows. Rabbeinu Yonah explains that one who shoots an arrow will often not know who it is that he ends up striking since they may be very far away. So too with lashon hora, when someone speaks about another person, he may be damaging not just that person but his business associates, his family members and even future generations. Rabbein Yonah also distinguishes an arrow from a sword by saying that if someone draws his sword on someone else and the potential victim pleads for mercy, he can return his sword to its holding place and there will be no damage. This is not the case with an arrow, once it is sent forth, it cannot be retrieved. So too with lashon hora, once the word escapes from our mouths, it is impossible to withdraw it.
One opinion in the Midrash that we quoted is that Yosef’s “adversaries” were his brothers. As pointed out last week, the brothers spoke about Yosef and plotted to harm him when Yosef was מֵרָחֹ֑ק far away. We see from here how their use of improper language was able to do significant harm even from a distance.
The Chofetz Chaim points out that it is often very difficult to do proper and full teshuvah for lashon hora in a case where someone does not know how far flung his words have become. According to some opinions, it is actually impossible to do teshuva for this since it would be impossible to determine who has actually heard them and, moreover, the words may continue to do future harm even to those who are not yet born. We should not look at this as a depressing statement regarding our past speech. Instead, we should look at it as an opportunity to comprehend the far reaching and devastating consequences of lashon hora so that we will be more careful with our current and future speech.
Lashon hora is compared to an arrow because arrows can do harm in places far from where they are shot. Additionally, once an arrow is shot, it is impossible to retrieve it and avoid the damaging circumstances.
Analogies, moshelim and comparisons are powerful learning tools. Think about how the analogy of an arrow to lashon hora provides deep insight into the detrimental nature of lashon hora. Remember the famous story about the person who went to his Rebbe to ask him how to do teshuva for his lashon hora. His rebbe told him to empty a pillow full of feathers into the wind. Confused but willing to listen to his Rebbe, the person did so and returned to his Rebbe. His Rebbe then told him to go retrieve each and every feather. The lesson is that it is just as difficult to do teshuva for broad ranging lashon hora as it is to track down and collect feathers that have been scattered to the wind. Create your own analogy or moshel that illustrates the far reaching effects of lashon hora and share it with your friends and family.
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