Motivation Not to Sin
                     by Lois Tverberg

You have heard that it was said, "Do not commit adultery." But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:27-28

The goal of rabbis of Jesus' day was to motivate people to obey God's word and stay far from sin. One technique that they used in their teaching was to point out that seemingly small sins can lead toward much greater sins.1 This was called kalah ka-hamurah (light as heavy), an abbreviation of mitsvah kalah ka-mitsvah hamurah (a light commandment is like a heavy commandment), in other words, breaking a less significant law is linked to breaking a greater law. We see this in Jesus' teaching when he compares anger to murder and lust to adultery (Mt 5:22-23, 27-28).

Other rabbis used this same technique to point out interesting things about our words about others. The question was asked, to which sin is lashon hara (the "evil tongue," meaning gossip) more closely related - theft or murder? The answer is murder, because a robber can always give back what he has stolen, but a murderer, as well as a gossip, can never repair all the damage that he or she has done. 2

Not to be outdone, another source compares gossip to the murder of three persons!3 It points out that not only do you "murder" the reputation of the object of your gossip, but you "murder" yourself - you show that you are a person who enjoys thinking badly of others and can't be trusted to not betray them. By bringing someone else down, you bring yourself down too. And finally, you "murder" the person who is listening. You load them down with information that will create disgust for the gossip's subject, and tempt them to spread the word to yet others.

Yet another rabbinic source says that gossip is like committing the three worst possible sins in Jewish thinking: idolatry, adultery, and murder! 4 Murder, of course, for what you are doing to another's reputation. Adultery, because you are betraying a person's trust, and idolatry, because you are acting as if you don't believe God is listening to your words.

The idea behind this conflation of small sins into greater ones is really motivational rather than theological. The rabbis are trying to teach us what great damage we can do with what seems like an innocent action. If we want to stop ourselves from great sins, we need to be aware of the potential consequences of even the most minor things we do.

1 Joseph Telushkin, Words that Hurt, Words that Heal (Quill, 1996) p. xx

2 David Bivin, New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus, (En-Gedi, 2005) p. 97.

3 Babylonian Talmud, Arachin 15b.

4 Ibid.

     
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