What's the Good Word?

The Midrash teaches that the very clothes that the Kohen Gadol (the high priest of the Temple) wears bring about atonement and that each of his garments rectifies a specific sin. This Midrash includes a very paradoxical statement related to the sin of lashon hara, speaking evil of others. After stating that there is no atonement for lashon hara, the Midrash contradicts this by stating that the coat of the Kohen Gadol atones. The resolution of this paradox gives insight about the power of speech. The words that we have said indeed can not be returned, we can not even know to whom these words have reached, whose hearts have been poisoned by them. The Kohen Gadol’s coat symbolizes what nevertheless can be done. The Midrash states that the twinkling of the bells attached to the coat’s edge emits a sound that atones for the sound of lashon hara. What this teaches is that although we can not erase the past but we can balance the evil we have done with good. The response for negative speech is not merely to stop negativity but by utilizing the blessing of speech as a positive counterbalance, by being generous by speaking good of others.