Ultimately, the Kli Yakar—being the emuna-filled tzaddik that he is—gives us final hope.
Despite his earlier statements, he believes that rectification can be achieved—through a great deal of Torah learning. The Kli Yakar emphasizes that not only will learning Torah help spiritually, but practically speaking, one cannot do two things at the same time. If one is learning Torah, one cannot be slandering others.
Yet what about someone who is an am ha’aretz?
Based on Tehillim 34:19 (“Hashem is close to the broken-hearted…”) and Mishlei 15:4 (“…and corrupts it and a break in his spirit”), the Kli Yakar insists that the am ha’aretz can be cured through a broken spirit [shever ruach].
(Needless to say, in order to achieve this, one must do the opposite of finding fault in others; one must seek out all the positive attributes and recognize Hashem’s goodness in everything.)
Metzudat David defines a nishbar lev [broken-hearted] as one who submits himself and returns from his [bad] deeds.
[The Talmud] wants to say that one doesn't need medications and that teshuvah holds great power. Nevertheless, one needs to guard his tongue via Torah learning, in the case of a learned person [a chacham]. But regarding an am ha'aretz, it said later, "Hashem is close to all the broken-hearted" and likewise in Mishlei 15:4: "....and corrupts it and a break in the spirit."
The Kli Yakar delves into a well-known midrash of a peddler who traveled throughout Tzipori and its environs, proclaiming, "Who wants to buy the elixir of life?"
But only Rabbi Yannai was interested.
The word used in the midrash is rochel [רוכל], which is the same word the Torah uses to mean "slanderer"--which is basically a peddler of slander.
The Kli Yakar uses both interpretations in his commentary to show that really one can rectify his sins of focusing on people's faults and then relating these faults and defects to others.
But the peddler opined that there is a rectification even for one who has already related [lashon hara] and he knew this from his own experience because he also was a slanderer who went about slandering and his tongue was habituated to casting strife between brothers.
Yet later, he gave his heart to do teshuvah and requested the ways of healing mentioned by our Sages: Torah learning for a talmid chacham and via shever ruach [a broken spirit] for an am ha'aretz. And he saw that these "medications" benefited him.
Therefore, his heart filled with the desire to bring merit to the masses and to bring teshuvah to all the very towns in which he knew there were baalei lashon until days of evil containing tzaraat would be prevented from coming upon them....and he declared, "Who wants to buy the elixir of life?"
For they were like sick people who need medications for a cure, which needs to be purchased.
So he mentioned the need to purchase the medication and this is the reason a proclamation alone is not enough: One might say, "I will go and sink into sleep, etc." [Because if he's sleeping, he will be unable to sin further.]
For where is it taught that one who is already sick will be cured by doing teshuvah and not sinning further?
.....And here is a ground-breaking idea [chiddush]: Torah learning benefits even he who has already related [lashon hara].....
....Everyone pressed around him [the peddler] because they'd already chosen for themselves the rotten path and their tongues were used to speaking lashon hara; therefore, they didn't ask to buy anything from him. On the contrary, they harassed him; "they looked behind him" because they were baalei raatan who look after the defects of many souls and their faults because this is the way of those who despise rebuke: They gaze behind those who rebuke them to see if they can find within them some kind of disqualifying speck in order to reply, "Take the board from between your eyes, etc." [i.e. "Look at your own faults!"]
And so they said to him, "Yesterday, you were a slanderer who went about slandering and today you want to fix our path? Adorn yourself first!"
His message was one of hope: "If I could change and have my teshuvah accepted, then you can, too!"
But the baalei ra'atan could not hear his message.
The truth is certainly with the words of the peddler, that this verse speaks of the groups that already spread lashon hara and it's difficult for them to leave the habit.
And sometimes they won't ask to buy the medicine--just like what happened to the merchant: they didn't ask to buy anything from him.
And nonetheless, the proclaimer is obligated to inform them of this path of mussar, even if they don't seek it from him.
And so the verse rejected the words of the "customers" to tell you that even if it may be a generation of corruption [dor hatahafuchot] that will not ask to buy anything from the Healer and will not seek Him, nevertheless, one should seek them to teach them the way of peace, like it says (Tehillim 34:15): "Request peace and pursue it...."
....And regarding that which says, "Who is the one who desires life, who loves days to see good?" because these same baalei raatan love the days in which they see the bad that they find in others in order that they have a place to malign him and tell of [his faults].
But the one who desires life shuts his eyes from seeing the bad and loves the days in which he can see the good in others....
And I went out of my usual bounds to go on a little bit at length about this....because I have seen that this generation is very, very unbridled [parutz] in the sin of the tongue and tzaraat is chronic because also the Egyptian Exile was because of slanderers.
And they were redeemed in the merit of four things, one of which was that there was no lashon hara among them, etc. And in the Second Beit Hamikdash, they turned back to that which they'd originally turned from.
And still today in this Galut [Exile], the sin of the tongue has begun to go and grow beyond cure. Therefore, I saw fit to speak a bit with such spiritual arousal [hitorerut] to say that perhaps the blind ones in the camp of the Jewish transgressors will hear and give their hearts to repair this breach.
And I gave this sermon in the holy community of Lublin, Parshat Zechor 5362  at a gathering of the leaders of our nation and the sages of all the communities and there was additional discussion of various aspects.
- Refraining from lashon hara is not enough; we must also actively seek out the positive attributes in others
- While spending time with those who seek out the bad in others and spreading this information around is both harmful and useless, we still have an obligation to alert those same people to the need for and the efficacy of doing teshuvah (However, the peddler did not spend more time than necessary with the baalei raatan.)
- Learning Torah and humbling oneself [shever ruach] can rectify even this severe sins
- Mishlei and Tehillim are particularly helpful (this is not quoted in this post, but is found in the original commentary)
- As destructive and irredeemable as being a blabbering fault-finder is, our Sages apparently consider it an illness, with the Kli Yakar even acknowledging that such people just find it "difficult" to "leave the habit," and it is curable
- Training ourselves to actually enjoy seeing positive attributes rather than enjoy pouncing on negative attributes is the key to effecting a cure
- Pray for that person—in Parshat Ki Tisa, the Kli Yakar emphasizes a sinner's sweet potential and the need to fast and pray for our fellow sinners
When we speak at length regarding a difficult person, especially a person who has hurt us, and ask Hashem to forgive that person and to help that person do teshuvah and to fulfill their unexpressed potential, we are showing that person more love and helping him or her eons more than we are when we are directly interacting with them.
For example, even with a manipulative and devious person, it is easy to see how they could flip their deviousness to help people rather than hurt them. Verbalizing this positive aspect of their behavior to Hashem can effect very real change for both you and that person.
People who have done this discovered that, say, twenty minutes of pleading for that person to Hashem produced a positive result that hours of listening and "understanding" and "helping" never did.
For more ideas on fulfilling the Torah's obligations for unity and teshuvah while dealing with problematic people (including myself), you can check out the following articles:
Time for a Paradigm Shift by Hava haAharona
Erev Rav by Emunaroma
Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim of Luntschitz (1550-1619) lived in Bohemia (which is today Poland and Czechoslovakia). He served as rabbi and dayan and wrote several books, the most well-known being his commentary on the Chumash known as the Kli Yakar.
This is my own translation and any errors are also mine.