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What If I Just Need To Vent?

Updated: Feb 14, 2023

The Torah refers to humans as “midaber,” which means “a speaker.”[1] The essence of what makes us human is our quality of speech. Words have tremendous power to alter reality. Just like G-d created the world through speech, we have the power to create, or destroy, with our speech.

In order to help us optimize our speech and our inner character, the Torah has many intricate laws known collectively as Shmiras HaLashon (“Guarding the Tongue”).

Loshon Hara which literally means, “Evil Tongue,” or gossip, is generally forbidden. Loshon Hara is true information which is either derogatory or potentially harmful to another person. False information is slander and is also forbidden.[2] Not only that, but it is also forbidden to even listen to Loshon Hara. (If you are put in a situation where you must, you should not believe that what you hear is true).

There are exceptions to speaking Loshon Hara for a constructive purpose, such as if you need to warn someone about a potential business or marriage partner. However, even here, there are additional laws involved. For instance, the information needs to be based on first-hand information and the intent of the speaker must be for constructive purposes only.[3]

People often ask me, “What if I just need to vent?”

The Torah was written for human beings and takes into account our emotional realities. It is acceptable to speak Loshon Hara for the sake of one’s emotional well-being, as this is considered constructive speech. Thus, it is permitted to speak Loshon Hara about an individual to a close friend, parent, spouse, or mentor in order to vent and obtain empathy or advice.

However, there are a few caveats. First, this exception applies to difficult life situations, not the daily annoyances of everyday life. The speaker should also remember that the purpose of relating the negative information is to let off steam and/or obtain emotional or psychological relief. If the speaker has already vented to someone or the listener is not capable of providing that support, then the speech may not be constructive and thus may be forbidden. Do we really need to vent about the same issue to our mom, two friends, aunt, and spouse? Probably not.

If the speaker does decide to share her issue, she should try to omit names, if possible. One time, a friend of mine said Loshon Hara about a peer of hers, though she was careful to keep the girl’s name anonymous. Yet because of the details she shared about the girl, I knew she was talking about my cousin! We need to be careful and only share the identity of the person if it is necessary.

In addition, the speaker should only disclose pertinent information. If someone’s specific behavior upset us, and that is what we wish to focus on, then there is no need to throw in every other unrelated, negative thing that the person has done to us in the past.

The listener is obligated to support the speaker by showing empathy and if asked, giving advice, as doing so is an act of kindness. However, the listener should not take the information she hears as fact and should try to stop the speaker from straying from the matter at hand and speaking unrelated Loshon Hara.[4]

The laws of Loshon Hara are specific and complex, covering every possible type of human interaction. If one is unsure about how to proceed in a certain situation, I recommend speaking to your LOR (Local Orthodox Rabbi).  To refrain from Loshon Hara is a constant struggle, one that I am constantly working on. I find that learning about the laws and ideas behind speech helps to strengthen me in this area. A great book on the subject is Choftez Chaim: A Lesson A Day.

It also helps to remember that the words we speak are a reflection of who we are. Negative words reflect someone who is angry, jealous, or just plain negative. Positive words reflect a happy, appreciative person. After all, the root of our speech is our thoughts and emotions. In this way, the laws of speech work backward. When we refine our speech, we refine our inner worlds and improve our relationships as a result.

We should be blessed to have an “ayin tov,” a good eye, to give others the benefit of the doubt, focus on the blessings around us, and speak in the way that G-d intended us to.

[1] “And Hashem formed the man of soil from the earth, and blew into his nostrils the soul of life; and man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7) The commentator Onkelos explains a “living being” to mean “a speaking soul.”

[2] The source against speaking Loshon Hara: “You shall not go around as a gossipmonger among your people.” (Vayikra 19:16)

[3] A summary of conditions for constructive speech can be found in Choftez Chaim: A Lesson A Day, Volume 1, p. 148.

[4] Id. at Volume 2, p. 268.

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