The maggid who revealed himself to the Beit Yossef said to him, “He who speaks Lashon Harah about others, his merits are removed and given to the person he has spoken about. This is the entire truth, and if people realized it they would rejoice in discovering that Lashon Harah was spoken about them. They would rejoice as if given a gift of gold and silver.”
We need to understand the meaning of this punishment. How is it fair that the merits of the person who speaks Lashon Harah are given to the one about whom he speaks? With regards to no other sin do we find that other merits are lost as a result. What is the reason for this special punishment regarding the sin of Lashon Harah?
Rabbi Dessler Zatzal explained that what draws a person into speaking Lashon Harah is his erroneous way of evaluating himself, namely by comparing himself to others, not by evaluating his own worth. When a person finds himself among others, he evaluates his gestures, words, and clothing by questioning how others will react to them. He wonders how he will appear to others, and whether they will approve. Thinking in this way diminishes a person, whether consciously or unconsciously.
Such dependence on the views of others originates from an erroneous belief. In fact we tend to think that a virtue is considered as such only when others recognize it, to the point that a person who is scorned seems abhorrent. Because of this erroneous viewpoint, a person is liable to take pleasure in compliments that he is showered with, all while knowing deep down that he does not possess the virtues for which he is being complimented. Evaluating oneself in this way is wrong!
It is from here that a taste for speaking Lashon Harah develops. By recounting that others have done wrong, the speaker highlights his own superiority, since a person will not point out shortcomings in others if he himself possesses them. When this person speaks Lashon Harah, it is as if he were saying: “So-and-so has this shortcoming, but I don’t have it at all.” One who speaks Lashon Harah wants to raise himself up and highlight his own importance, not by his own virtues, but by lowering others. Even if he doesn’t explicitly say so, he still thinks it, even if unconsciously. He is seeking honor for himself at the expense of shaming others.
Since the goal of such a person is to build himself up by destroying others – to raise himself upon the ruins of others – he will be punished measure for measure, meaning that others will be elevated at his expense! His merits will therefore be transferred to the one about whom he spoke Lashon Harah, and the liabilities of that person will belong to him. Thus he will be redeemed from his sins by being punished measure for measure. What he wanted to do to others will be done to him.
– Siftei Chaim