As a boy, Israel Meir Kagan watched the rabbi packing his few belongings into the rear of the horse-drawn cart. The rabbi's wife and three children huddled nervously against each other in the front. A crowd of supporters had gathered at the last minute, determined to convince the rabbi to remain in the tiny Polish village.
"Rabbi, please reconsider; you can't abandon us."
"I'm not abandoning you," he sighed mournfully, "but I can no longer serve this community, especially under these circumstances."
"Good riddance," shouted an elderly man, who stood a safe distance from the tearful throng.
"Ignore him," pleaded the rabbi. "Behavior like his has ripped this community apart."
The rabbi's supporters, however, could not restrain themselves, and they faced off angrily against their adversary. Curses filled the air until hatred saturated the village square. Someone hurled a rock at the old man. He dodged it easily, but to everyone's horror, it bounced twice and struck Israel Meir in the shin. The boy screamed in pain. The source of his anguish, though, stemmed not only from the physical bruise caused by the rock, but also from the emotional scar caused by the collapse of his once close-knit community. Sadly, lashon hara (evil speech, like slander and gossip) had weaseled its way into the fabric of the town and gnawed away at goodwill and trust, the foundations of friendships. The black and blue on his leg faded in time; the bruise on his heart lasted a lifetime.
Israel Meir Kagan became a respected rabbi, popularly known as the Chofetz Chaim-which is the title of his famous book about avoiding lashon hara.