Loshon Harah – Evil Speech

Our Sages say that the Temples are being destroyed due to the words that people speak about others. These words are words of truth. Yet these words are meant as evil words of truth. This series of classes is meant as a vaccine to stop these words. These classes are based on a Sefer – Book by a 20th Century Sage known as the Chofetz Chaim. His book was meant to bring all of the Halachot – laws from the Torah to help us reconcile our words with these Halachot and to realize the evil speech we do, in order to stop our participation in this evil speech of human beings.

Initially I am presenting a story that hints to the energy of Loshon Harah – evil speech. Please Remember the Torah is not about morals and ethics – It is about metaphysical energies.

On the Road

Before Rabbi Zusya of Anipoli was revealed as one of the spiritual giants of the generation, he lived the life of a nomad. He would wander from village to village, from town to town, and nobody knew who he was or could possibly fathom his greatness.

One evening, when he was sitting in the shul's - study room of whatever small town he happened to be in then, a woman opened the door, entered, and asked loudly, "Have any of you men seen my husband?"

No one knew who she was. It turned out that her husband abandoned her and no one knew where he had run off to or even if he was still alive. His poor wife was now an aguna, unable to claim either divorcee or widow status, and therefore forbidden to remarry. Desperate to escape from her aguna status, she decided to travel to as many places as she could in search of her husband. In every city, town, village and settlement she arrived at, she would ask help in finding her husband, relating physical signs by which he could be identified. But to no avail, and she was becoming frustrated and depressed, at the end of her strength and financial resources.

However, when Reb Zusya heard her unusual request, he jumped up to face her and said, "Go quickly now to the Town Guesthouse, and there you will find your husband."

The woman neither hesitated nor asked a single question. She darted away to the Hospitality Center, and there, remarkably, discovered her runaway husband.

chanoch's Commentary

What happens between the wife and husband is not important to the story. When we finishes the series of classes one will be able to know what is wrong with the above story as there is Loshon HaRah within it. As you listen to the rest of the classes think about how each class may relate to what is the Loshon Harah in this story.

Continuing the story.

Those present were amazed. How could this itinerant Zusya know the whereabouts of the runaway husband whom he had never met? Their amazement mounted when they soon discovered he had never set foot in the Guesthouse either.

"Surely this is a miracle," they concluded excitedly. Word spread quickly from mouth to mouth to the entire local Jewish population.

"No, no, nothing is miraculous here," Zusya hastened to disclaim. "It's just that something strange happened {at shul} this morning. After Shacharit (morning prayer), I overheard two men conversing, and one of them said to the other that a new guest in town had just showed up at the Guesthouse shul.

"I couldn't help wondering," Zusya continued; "what was the significance of my happening to hear this? Why should my ears snatch on to this snippet in the midst of all the other conversations at the same time?

"I wasn't able to come up with an answer or even a theory. I wanted to spend the day learning Torah, so I had to turn my mind away from this question. Then, this evening, after Maariv (Evening Prayer), {for some reason} I started thinking about it again. Just then, the woman came into the Study Hall and asked if we had seen her husband. I instantly thought to myself, 'That's the answer! This man that I heard them talking about must be her husband!'"

Everyone present stared at each other in wonderment. "He says this is not a miracle? If so, then it is an indication-a clear sign, even-that this stranger Zusya must be a tzadik (exceptionally holy). Imagine: he is so careful to not pay attention to gossip, so trained himself to tune out even idle conversation, that when his ears catch insignificant words he feels compelled to search out a deeper meaning for the occurrence. Only such a pure soul would Heaven arrange to hear seemingly insignificant words and trust that he would feel compelled to decipher their true significance."

chanoch adds: Do you think you can tune out what is referred to as gossip? What else would you do with your time if you did? Is the story a miracle or not? At the end of this series of classes we will discuss the answers to these questions.

From the Sefer Chofetz Chaim published by the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation

Day 1 - The Source of Exile

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Preface

The Chofetz Chaim begins his classic sefer, Chofetz Chaim, by painting a picture of the world and our place in it. He begins: Hashem separated us as a nation. He gave us His precious Torah and brought us into Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel). Why? For what purpose were we chosen? The Chofetz Chaim answers that we were chosen to perform Hashem’s mitzvos (commandments) and thereby earn enormous goodness and reward in this world and the next.

chanoch's Commentary

The Chofetz Chaim is a Kabbalist. Yet the translator is not. While the connection is subtle it is misleading. The translator uses the word chosen which is a misleading translation. It is also important to realize when someone says the word us, this is also a misleading expression since it needs to be us the Children of Israel not us the Jews.

The Chofetz Chaim notes, however, that Hashem gives us His gifts in a manner that is totally different from that of a human being. A person who presents a gift and then sees that the recipient does not appreciate its value, might feel inclined to take the item back. He might reason that if the recipient does not recognize its value, the gift should go to someone who does recognize it. Hashem, however, acts differently. When in earlier generations He saw that we did not appreciate His Torah, He sent us prophets to help us recognize the value of this most precious gift.

chanoch's Commentary

Has anyone questioned why we have Prophets or people with Ruach HaKodesh? The above answer is one answer to this question. Another answer is that it is an effect of closeness to HaShem.

When the era of prophecy came to an end at the start of the Second Temple period, we still lived in our precious land and the Divine Presence still rested in the Beis HaMikdash (the Holy Temple), providing us with a golden opportunity to serve Hashem and fulfill all His commandments in the way that He desires. But we became entangled in a web of sinas chinam (baseless hatred) and loshon hora (derogatory speech). And because of disunity brought about by these sins our Beis HaMikdash was destroyed and we were exiled from our land.

The Chofetz Chaim states: “From then until now, each and every day, we pray to Hashem that He should bring us near to Him, as He promises many times throughout His Torah. Yet He has not answered our pleas.”

The Chofetz Chaim concludes that we are the ones who are to blame for this. The 2,000-year-old exile is not a continuous punishment for the sins of those who lived during the Second Temple era. Hashem stands ready to end the exile immediately — were it not for the sins of sinas chinam and loshon hora which continue to wreak destruction among our people.

chanoch's Commentary

The Chofetz Chaim hints but does not say explicitly that the reason the Temple is destoryed and not yet built again is because we – you and I do not speak proper language and not speaking proper language is an effect of sinat hinam – Hatred for No Reason. We have to ask ourselves what is the truth. Are you and I truly responsible for the Temple not being revealed yet? The answer is yes. Yet we do not feel this is true. This is an indication of how far we have fallen from the closeness with HaShem.

Day 2 – Irrefutable Proof

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Preface (Continued)

Previously, the Chofetz Chaim explained the true source of this ongoing exile. He stated that the sins of loshon hora and sinas chinam (baseless hatred) of past generations would not cause Hashem (G-d) to withhold His Presence from us. It is our own sins that keep Hashem from drawing near to us, despite our constant prayers.

The Chofetz Chaim says that if we analyze our sins, there is only one that can be so powerful as to cause Hashem not to redeem His beloved children — the sin of loshon hora. It is simple logic. If loshon hora, and the sinas chinam which it caused, had the negative spiritual power to destroy the Beis HaMikdash, then certainly it has the power to prevent the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash.

chanoch's Commentary

Again the translation is not correct in my opinion. Sinat Hinam is the cause and the effect is Loshon Harah. Not the other way around as expressed in the above paragraph.

The Chofetz Chaim brings many sources to support this point. In Parashas Shemos, the Torah relates the suffering of the Jews in Egypt. The Torah states that Moshe, who had grown up in Pharaoh’s palace, went out among his people and shared their pain and suffering. In his wanderings among the Jews, he encountered the notorious pair, Dasan and Aviram who informed on him after he killed an Egyptian who was attacking a Jew. Moshe said, “Now the matter is known” (Shemos 2:15). The Midrash interprets this to mean, “Now I understand why the Jewish people are in this terrible exile. It is because they speak loshon hora.”

chanoch's Commentary

Realize that we still do not know what is Loshon Harah. It is not speaking an untruth. It is many things including exageration, as we will learn. Also realize that the word Jews in the above couple of paragraphs is an incorrect statement since it should be said as Children of Israel.

The Chofetz Chaim also cites the episode of the spies who were sent to scout out the Land of Israel in preparation for the Jews’ conquest of it. Their negative report was loshon hora against Hashem’s precious Holy Land. The Jews wept over this report on the night of Tishah B’Av (the ninth of Av), and it was this sin that ultimately led to the destruction of the first Beis HaMikdash (Holy Temple). Hashem declared, “You wept in vain. I will establish this night as a night of weeping for all generations.”

chanoch adds: We always cause the effects in our lives and in the lives of the other humans and nations. Why do they have to experience what we cause? Because they are part of this generation and have the responsibility to make sure no one does a wrong action by teaching the others. Also everyone is one soul so the actions of one are attributed to all

The Chofetz Chaim provides further proof. The Torah states “Cursed is he who attacks his friend secretly” (Devarim 27:24). As Rashi explains, this is a reference to loshon hora. A person who speaks loshon hora is cursed. The Talmud (Arachin 15b) goes further, comparing loshon hora to a denial of G-d.

chanoch adds: Why do you think the speaker of Loshon Harah is cursed? Perhaps because one can not know where his words are expressed and to who so the effect is very exaggerated.

The Chofetz Chaim then offers his final point. The Midrash (Devarim Rabbah 6, 14) states, “Hashem says, ‘In this world, because there is loshon hora among you, I withdrew My Presence from among you.’” Like a letter directly from Hashem – clear and unambiguous.

The message of this statement is incredible. The Beis HaMikdash has not been rebuilt, the Shechinah (Divine Presence) is not in our midst, because of the forbidden speech which we utter.

chanoch adds: Please read the above paragraph a minimum of ten times until it sinks in. The Temple has not been built because of our Loshon Harah.

chanoch's Commentary

Once one realizes that they have spoken Loshon HaRah how can one do Teshuvah in order to make this negative action disappear. First – please realize that speaking loshon harah is a negative action. Second – Realize that there is no possible Teshuvah possible to reverse Loshon Harah as will be discussed in the two stories below.

First Story

A student of one of the Sages came to his teacher with a question. He said to his teacher I realize that I have said Loshon Harah about this particular person. How can I make amends for this horrible mistake?

The teacher said to wait for a very windy day and to go up to his roof with his feather down pillow. As the wind blows he should wave the pillow case until all of the down feathers have flown away. The student performed this act and then went to see his teacher again.

The student said to his teacher “i did what you told me to do. Have I completed my Teshuvah?” The teacher said no you still have one more task to perform. Go home and search for every last down feather and put it back into the pillow case. You will not be complete until you find every feather. This is because once a word escapes your mouth you do not know where the words flow to – whose ears have heard them. Whose mouth has repeated the words with or without changes.

Do you understand now why Loshon Harah can not be taken back and erased through apologies and making amends. See the next story to realize this.

Second Story

A debtor came to his creditor to pay the $1000 Ruble debt he owed. The Creditor was known to be a Tzadik and always honest. The debtor found the creditor deep in contemplative study in the beit Hamidrash – study hall. He handed over the 1000 rubles yet did not receive a written receipt. When the Tzadik came out of his meditation and study he saw a 1000 rubles on the table and did not know where it came from. He put it into the book of Talmud he was studying between the pages that he had just been studying and put the book back on the shelf.

As the calendar continue to age day by day it came time for the debts to be paid. The Tzadik saw in his ledger book that the debtor still owed him 1000 rubles and it was late. The Tzadik went to the debtor and asked for his money. The debtor said I paid you in the study hall and you nodded to me that you knew it was my debt payment. The Tzadik said no you did not.

Needless to say the people of the town learned of this conflict and judged that the Tzadik was correct and the debtor was not to be judged. The business of the debtor went downhill and eventually he became bankrupt.

In the fullness of time the study cycle of the Talmud returned to that book of Talmud and lo and behold the Tzadik found the 1000 rubles. He realized what this money represented and he called for the debtor now the town pauper. He said to the pauper I realize I made this mistake and that the town's loshon harah caused your business problems. These problems are due to my mistake. I can not undue the loshon harah yet this is what I can do. You have a son and I have a daughter. Let us make a match and when the town realizes that I am willing to give my daughter to your son your repurtation will be restored and you will be able to restart your business. That is what transpired.

chanoch adds: Do you think this is Teshuvah for Loshon Harah?

Day 3 - Satan’s Accomplice

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Preface (Continued)

The Chofetz Chaim has stated and proven beyond any doubt that the sin of loshon hora, which was the cause of the Second Temple’s destruction, is the factor which up to this day has prevented us from being redeemed through Moshiach’s arrival. The question is, why? How could this one sin be so destructive?

To understand the severity of loshon hora and its ramifications, one must first understand the judicial system in Heaven through which the Jewish People are judged. The Chofetz Chaim explains that the Heavenly judicial process is initiated by words which Jews speak on this world. Our negative conversations are the key which opens the door for Satan to prosecute.

As Zohar states (Parashas Shelach), this sin “brings plague, sword and murder to this world. Woe to those who awaken this evil force, who do not guard their tongues and pay no heed to this! They do not realize that the ways of Heaven are reflective of the ways on this world, both for good and for bad. [Through evil talk,] Satan is aroused to voice accusation against the entire world.”

chanoch adds: Woe to the perpetrator of Loshon Harah yet that does not mean they suffer plague – sword – murder in this world. Yet they will be the subject of Loshon Harah to balance the universe, in my opinion.

In this vein, the Chofetz Chaim explains that the teaching from the Talmud (Arachin 15b), “Whoever speaks loshon hora raises sins to the Heavens,” should be taken literally. When we speak negatively of our fellow Jews, this causes the sins of our people to be noted in Heaven, where they are brought before the Heavenly Throne for judgment. We think we’re merely chatting, when in reality, we’re delivering the day’s caseload to Satan.

The Chofetz Chaim offers a second reason why loshon hora is so damaging. Because loshon hora utilizes the power of speech to do its damage, it corrupts this faculty and prevents our Torah and tefillah (prayer) from ascending Heavenward. The Chofetz Chaim envisions the sacred words that pour forth from a mouth corrupted by loshon hora. He sees them heading upward toward our “Heavenly bank accounts,” but never quite getting there. We believe we have accomplished something spiritually, but that’s not what happened. The Chofetz Chaim says, “All the words of Torah and tefillah are hanging somewhere between Heaven and earth, suspended in the air.” He concludes: if our Torah and tefillah are not being credited to us, then, “From where will we acquire the necessary merit to bring Mashiach and the Final Redemption?”

chanoch adds: Do you understand what is being said in the above paragraph? Your prayers and your readings of the Hebrew words of Torah do not get credited to you. Understand this well as a motivation to stop your Loshon Harah as well as to stop listening to Loshon Harah.

Day 4 - Satan’s Strategies

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Preface (Continued)

“I wondered to myself,” the Chofetz Chaim writes, “how was it possible that this Torah prohibition of loshon hora came to be disregarded by so many people?”

The Chofetz Chaim answers this by introducing us to the main strategy of the evil inclination and the tactics which it utilizes to entangle us in the powerful sin of loshon hora.

The average person, writes the Chofetz Chaim, is simply unaware that the prohibition of loshon hora applies to information that is true. (Information that is false is termed hotza’as shem ra, slander.) Therefore, all Satan needs to do is to present information as being true and most people will readily repeat it, though according to halachah (Torah law) such talk is absolutely forbidden.

chanoch adds: Loshon Harah – evil speech is true speech. Remember this! A lie is forbidden but a lie is not called Loshon Harah. Truth is called Loshon Harah. Your reaction is that what words can I say at all? This will become clear as we go through the classes. Just remember always, truth can be loshon harah.

For people who are more learned, Satan uses a different approach. He convinces the person that the subject of the loshon hora is an evil person and therefore deserves that loshon hora be spoken about him, or that this information is not loshon hora.

chanoch adds: Having read the above paragraph, as a student of Kabbalah, answer the question – Is it ok to judge a person to be an evil person?

If these tactics fail, Satan uses an opposite tactic. He causes the person to worry that every word he speaks might be loshon hora even when it is not. Satan makes it appear that the only choice one has is not to speak at all. Since most people are involved in conversation numerous times each day, the only solution seems to be to ignore the laws of loshon hora, for they are impossible to keep. Satan really is quite clever!

Once Satan has convinced people to speak loshon hora, he goes about spreading his web of misinformation further to draw people into listening to the loshon hora, based on their lack of knowledge of the halachah.

For these reasons, the Chofetz Chaim writes, the sin of loshon hora had become small in the eyes of the world. People became accustomed to speaking without measuring their words against the Torah’s standards. Eventually, loshon hora was no longer viewed as an evil, thereby allowing bitter, damaging conversation to become acceptable, unrecognized as the terrible sin that it is.

Shmiras haloshon, guarding one’s speech, became the mitzvah of the pious, not of ordinary Jews, an irrelevant issue to most people. Satan’s strategies had succeeded. A most severe Torah prohibition, certainly equal to that of eating non-kosher food, was now considered to be nothing more than an optional stringency that only few were concerned with.

All of Satan’s strategies, writes the Chofetz Chaim, were based on his ability to spread misinformation. This was possible because the correct information was generally inaccessible. The laws of loshon hora were scattered throughout the Talmud, having never been collected and organized. People were drowning in the sin of loshon hora simply because they were totally ignorant of it and had no way of learning about it.

It was this tragic situation which impelled the Chofetz Chaim to write his monumental work - Sefer Chofetz Chaim.

Day 5 - The Sefer’s Structure

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Preface (Continued)

Sefer Chofetz Chaim made it possible, for the first time, for a person to study the laws of loshon hora in an organized fashion. The Chofetz Chaim writes, “I wrote this sefer, where I gathered all the halachos (Torah laws) that were scattered throughout the Talmud and the writings of halachic (pertaining to Torah law) authorities, especially the Rambam, Smag, and Shaarei Teshuvah authored by Rabbeinu Yonah.”

Before delving into the subject matter of the sefer, the Chofetz Chaim describes its overall structure and the guidelines under which it was written. He begins: “I divided the sefer into two parts. The first is the laws of loshon hora and the second section is hilchos rechilus, the laws pertaining to gossip. I then divided the laws into chapters and each chapter into several segments. I added illustrations so that a person could receive practical advice on how to be careful in given situations. I named the sefer Chofetz Chaim, from the verse:

‘Mi Ha-Ish HeChafetz Chaim … Netzor Leshoncha M’ra … ’ Who is the man who wants life … Guard your tongue from evil …

(Tehillim 34:13-14).

“Because I wanted the sefer to be as accessible as possible, I then separated the material into two parts. The essence, which is the halachah that is derived after careful study and analysis, I called Mekor HaChaim (Source of Life). I gave it this name because speech is the essence of life as we see from the verse ‘And man became a living being’ (Bereishis 2:7) which Onkelos translates as ‘a speaking being.’

“The body of sources and clarifications of each halachah I named Be’er Mayim Chaim (Wellspring of Living [fresh] Water), because these sources were the well from which I drew Mekor HaChaim. Know, my brother, that for every point that is mentioned in this work, I cite the source in Be’er Mayim Chaim.”

The reason why he so carefully cites his sources, explains the Chofetz Chaim, is so that it should be clear to everyone that whatever is mentioned in this sefer is not in any way debatable or optional. Everything here is halachah and is required of each and every Jew.

chanoch adds: also every child of Israel and Benai Noach – child of Noach.

The Chofetz Chaim offers us strong medicine. He understood that this is what is needed to lift us from the complacency, which is so easily felt with regard to loshon hora.

In his writings, the Chofetz Chaim carefully avoids exaggerations and overstatements. Yet he ends this section by stating: “When one will ponder the sin of loshon hora and understand its significance, the hair on his head will stand on edge from the magnitude of this sin.”

chanoch adds: As a student of Kabbalah can you quess why the Chofetz Chaim is careful to avoid exaggerations and overstatements?

Day 6 – Sound Advice

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Preface (Continued)

The Chofetz Chaim continues to discuss the structure of his classic work. “And I beseech you, dear reader, if you come across something in my sefer (book) that at first glance appears to be an extra stringency or something that could have been explained in fewer words, do not be quick to decide that it was a mistake.

“Study the matter well in Be’er Mayim Chaim, because there is important information there and you must understand the halachah in its entirety. In truth, each and every halachah in this sefer was pondered in great depth; I discussed the subject matter with friends who are gedolei Torah (great Torah scholars) and I carefully cross-referenced Talmudic sources to check for any contradictions. I am hopeful that one who takes my words to heart and studies these halachos (Torah laws) in depth, will recognize clearly that every word in this sefer is written exactly according to halachah: no more, no less.”

The Chofetz Chaim continues, “I know that there are people whose habit is to downgrade others and speak much loshon hora. Such people will read my sefer to find leniencies that I might have written. They will not study the Be’er Mayim Chaim and they will come to permit things that I never intended to permit. They will use my sefer to speak loshon hora and will tell people that Sefer Chofetz Chaim permits it! Nevertheless, I did not refrain from writing this sefer because of people who would misuse it, because the Torah says, ‘For the ways of Hashem are straight; the righteous will walk in them and sinners will stumble over them (Hoshea 14:10).’

“And I certainly know that there will be people who will make light of the value of studying this sefer and they will defend themselves with the Sages’ teaching, ‘Better that they should sin out of ignorance than intentionally.’ This is incorrect for two reasons. The above teaching does not apply regarding a halachah that is clearly stated in the Torah — and the laws pertaining to loshon hora are clearly spelled out in the Torah.

chanoch adds: Study the Sefer and learn and take to heart the wisdom of these teachings.

“Furthermore, according to this [misguided] reasoning, we should not teach people the laws of Shabbos or robbery which are also difficult to keep!” In reality, we know that these laws can be observed by everyone, for Hashem, who created man and knows his abilities, gave us these laws. Were they beyond man’s capabilities, Hashem would not have imposed them on us. The Chofetz Chaim adds, “You will find that the study of these laws will make you more aware of loshon hora so that even if, G-d forbid, you should stumble, you will at least not be in the category of a baal loshon hora, a habitual speaker of loshon hora, whom our Sages say in the Talmud (Arachin 15b) will not merit to greet the Shechinah (Divine Presence).”

The Chofetz Chaim concludes his foreword explaining why he opens his sefer by detailing all the positive and negative commandments that relate to loshon hora. “The study of these commandments and related teachings of Chazal will help the reader to realize the severity of this sin and the damage that words can cause and will certainly weaken one’s inclination to sin.”

The Chofetz Chaim continues, “The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 14,4) states that if one studies a subject intensely, Hashem removes the yetzer hora (evil inclination) from him with regard to that subject. I therefore said to myself, that if a person will study this sefer and ponder what is written here, his inclination for loshon hora will be weakened. He will begin to draw away from this sin and in the course of time, he will see that he can withdraw completely from speaking loshon hora, because to a great extent, this sin is the result of habit.”

chanoch adds: Most people think that to stop a habit one must replace it with a new habit. That is a current teaching in many modern spiritual paths. The above teaching refutes this teaching and one needs to realize this truth. Study this sefer and become aware of this habit of Loshon Harah and one will choose to stop saying Loshon Harah.

“He who comes to purify himself is granted Heavenly assistance” (Yoma 38b). In merit of our efforts regarding shmiras haloshon, the Chofetz Chaim concludes, we will be worthy of the Final Redemption.

chanoch adds: May we all say “Amen”

Day 7 - A Historical Perspective

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Introduction

The Chofetz Chaim opens his Pesichah (Introduction) with a brief historical perspective of the sin of loshon hora.

Loshon hora has the distinction of being the first sin ever committed. We know that the Serpent enticed Eve to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. To accomplish his aim, the Serpent utilized a classic loshon hora approach that is used even today. “You should know that the boss is jealous of you. He’s stunting your growth in the company. You really are as good as he is.”

In this case, the “boss” was Hashem. The Serpent told Eve that all Hashem had to do to become the Creator was to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. He drew the logical conclusion that if Adam and Eve were to eat from that same tree they would become just like Hashem. Obviously, reasoned the Serpent, Hashem did not want “competition,” and that is why He forbade Adam and Eve from partaking of the tree’s fruits.

chanoch adds: Learn from this paragraph that HaShem follows his own Halachot. If he recommends humans to not do something he does not do that thing. HaShem ate from the Tree of Knowledge and He recommended that we delay eating from the Tree of Knowledge until Shabbat. This is one of the reasons I teach that HaShem wants human beings to grow to adulthood so that we can become a friend to HaShem.

The particular method which the Serpent used so successfully was a combination of loshon hora and rechilus (gossip); he claimed that Hashem was not concerned with their best interests and that Hashem was merely using a ploy to keep them from competing with Him.

chanoch adds: Remember even gossip is true, since it is called Rechilus and this was discussed above that rechilus is truth also. If it is not true it is called slander.

We know, all too well, the result of the Serpent’s evil words. Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden. Difficult toil to produce food became the lot of men, while childbirth pain became the lot of women. Death was introduced to the world. On man’s very first day on earth, loshon hora demonstrated its destructive power.

The Chofetz Chaim puts it succinctly: “One who speaks loshon hora attaches himself to a practice that destroys the world.”

The very first exile of the Jewish people was directly related to loshon hora. The Chofetz Chaim states: “The main reason for the Jews’ suffering in Egypt was loshon hora. Yosef spoke loshon hora about his brothers; therefore Heaven decreed that he would be sold into slavery.”

Further in the Torah, we encounter an event of catastrophic proportion, and we suffer from its consequences to this very day. As the Chofetz Chaim puts it, “The underlying cause of our present exile was the sin of the spies… The Talmud describes their sin as one of loshon hora.”

Such is the damage which loshon hora has wrought in our people’s history: the first sin ever committed, the underlying cause of our mortality, the catalyst which caused the Jewish people to be exiled in Egypt, and the cause of our exile today. With this powerful piece, the Chofetz Chaim conclusively dispels the myth that loshon hora is relatively harmless.

Day 8 - A Wholesale Sin Market

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Introduction (Continued)

The Chofetz Chaim writes that one should not equate speaking loshon hora with other negative behavior, such as showing anger or insensitivity. Though these, too, destroy the fabric of one’s soul, loshon hora is in a class by itself. When one speaks loshon hora, he transgresses an explicit negative commandment in the Torah, “You shall not go as a peddler of gossip among your people” (Vayikra 19:16). As one of the 613 commandments, the sin of speaking loshon hora should be approached with the severity we attach to eating non-kosher food.

In the next segment, the Chofetz Chaim will detail many additional positive and negative commandments that one may transgress when speaking loshon hora. Today, he focuses on these important points:

The prohibition against loshon hora applies to information that is true.

chanoch adds: Repeat the above statement until its message has penetrated your psyche. loshon HaRah is True.

It applies whether or not the subject is present when the loshon hora is spoken.

chanoch adds: Frequently when one says to a friend you are speaking Loshon Harah the reactive response is “i would say this to their face even if they were here. That is not an excuse.

The Torah prohibits not only speaking loshon hora, but also listening to Loshon Harah and accepting it as fact.

chanoch adds: As a human being reading the above statement it is important to ask the question How do I hear my friend tell me something and I do not accept it as fact.

The Chofetz Chaim spends a great deal of time detailing the negative commandments a person transgresses when he speaks loshon hora. He does this to make us aware of the enormous damage we do to ourselves when we commit this sin. He shows us that, with loshon hora, one usually transgresses several negative commandments at once.

Another reason why the Chofetz Chaim brings this information at this juncture is to dissuade us from believing that the truth of our information mitigates its status as loshon hora. He details the vast number of negative commandments that are breached precisely when so-called “mitigating circumstances” are present: the information is true; the subject is present, or when we are only passive listeners and not the speaker.

The Chofetz Chaim concludes with an explanation of why the Torah cautions us so strongly regarding loshon hora. If we carefully consider the dynamics of loshon hora, we find that one who speaks loshon hora has not only transgressed a negative commandment, but he has trampled on many Torah laws guiding relations between man and his fellow. The Chofetz Chaim stresses that if we will study this issue a bit more, we will see that loshon hora also causes one to transgress the laws pertaining to man’s relationship with Hashem.

chanoch adds: It is important for one to prepare themselves to learn how speaking Loshon Harah impacts our personal relationship to HaShem.

Day 9 – Warning Signs

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Introduction: Negative Commandments 1 – 2

In this section, the Chofetz Chaim begins to detail the negative commandments that one transgresses when speaking loshon hora. One is struck by the fact that there is no other sin in the Torah that has as many negative commandments related to it. If we consider the following analogy, we can begin to understand why this is so. If you were to walk down the street and pass an abandoned house, you would probably find a simple “No Trespassing” sign posted on the door. It would probably not be safe to go inside; the floor might be rotted and one misstep could mean an injury. But the only warning is this one simple “No Trespassing” sign, because the potential damage incurred by entering this house would probably not be catastrophic.

On the other hand, if you were entering a military nuclear missile facility, you would see warning signs miles before you actually arrived at the site. You would be put on notice well in advance: “Beware! You are approaching a nuclear missile facility. Authorized Personnel Only!” As you got closer to the facility, the warnings would become more alarming, and the security even tighter — all in proportion to the potential damage which your trespassing could cause.

The Chofetz Chaim has taught us that loshon hora destroys the world, that it destroyed the Beis HaMikdash and can destroy our portion in the World to Come. Hashem, in His great love for us, took a sin which could have been limited to one negative commandment and multiplied it 17 times. These commandments are “warning signs” for us all along the path of daily life, letting us know in clear, dramatic terms that when we open our mouths to speak, we are entering extremely dangerous territory. The positive side of the power of speech is Torah and tefillah (prayer). Yet the negative side is real destruction.

The Chofetz Chaim begins with the primary commandment against speaking loshon hora and rechilus (gossip): Lo seileich rachil b’amecha, You shall not go as a peddler of gossip among your people (Vayikra 19:16). In its literal definition, a rachil is a peddler. The Chofetz Chaim asks, “Who is the peddler? Someone who collects information about what people say and do and peddles it to others.”

In the classic case of rechilus, one person tells another, “Do you know what he said about you?” An overwhelming amount of animosity in offices, homes and neighborhoods comes from the misguided belief that it is good and helpful to report back to people any negative comments made about them. Many people operate on the theory that we need to know what others are saying about us. But in reality, the Chofetz Chaim says, rechilus serves no positive purpose. It creates enemies. He stresses that even if the information is absolutely true, relating it - Rechilus to others destroys the world.

Day 10 - Corrective Measures

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Introduction: Negative Commandments 3 – 4

The relationship in the Torah between tzara’as (a skin disease induced by spiritual impurity) and the sin of loshon hora is well known. Moshe’s righteous sister Miriam was afflicted with tzara’as because she said something about Moshe that had just the slightest taint of loshon hora. Her words were well intentioned and she spoke only to her brother Aaron, yet she was immediately punished with tzara’as and the Jewish people had to delay travel for seven days until she was cured.

If one ever needed proof that loshon hora is as harmful as we have suggested, this is it. There is no other sin so toxic that it comes with its own unique corrective illness. In the Torah’s system of reward and punishment, there are no bolts of lightning striking down wrongdoers, because that would subvert the concept of bechirah (free choice). If Divine punishment were instantaneous, there would be no opportunity to choose between right and wrong. Similarly, if every sin was punishable by its own unique sickness, it would be virtually unthinkable to sin.

chanoch adds: Actually each negative action when repeated often enough receives the effect of its own unique illness for each individual. Today it takes a Kabbalist or a student of Kabbalah to assist the individual to find the spiritual cause of each unique illness.

But loshon hora is different. It is so dangerous to a person’s well-being that Hashem, in His great kindness, provided us with the punishment of tzara’as as a corrective measure. The Chofetz Chaim says that when a person speaks loshon hora, he violates the command “He’shamer b’nega hatzara’as” (Devarim 24:8), in which we are told to carefully guard ourselves against contracting tzara’as. The Torah’s intention is that we should remember to stay away from loshon hora and therefore stay away from tzara’as. Obviously, when we speak loshon hora, we have broken through the protective barriers that the Torah has set up for us and placed ourselves in harm’s way.

The Chofetz Chaim examines another prohibition, “Do not place a stumbling block before the blind” (Vayikra 19:14). This law is violated when one Jew causes another Jew to sin. The Chofetz Chaim informs us that the speaker of loshon hora is compounding his own sin by not only speaking loshon hora, but also causing his audience to listen to loshon hora. The Chofetz Chaim adds that the more listeners present, the more sins one commits. If, for example, a person speaks at a Shabbos table where five people are present, then the violation of “Do not place a stumbling block before a blind man” is multiplied by five.

The Chofetz Chaim adds that this prohibition also applies to the listener of loshon hora. If Reuven begins to speak loshon hora to Shimon and Shimon shows interest in what he has to say, then he too, violates “Do not place a stumbling block before a blind man.” This is because, in all likelihood, the speaker would not continue speaking loshon hora if he did not have a willing audience.

The Chofetz Chaim ends with a word of caution: One should be very careful not to sit with groups who speak loshon hora. He cites the advice that Rabbi Eliezer gave his son Horkanus. “My son, do not sit with groups that talk about the faults of others, because these words rise up to Heaven and are recorded there. And anyone who participates in such gatherings is listed in Heaven as a member of a chaburas resha (a group of evildoers).”

See Chofetz Chaim: A Lesson a Day (Day 41) for an explanation of why the punishment of tzara’as no longer exists.

Day 11 – Arrogance and Disgrace

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM Introduction: Negative Commandments 5-6

Generally, a person who speaks loshon hora does so from a somewhat smug and haughty perspective. Such a person, says the Chofetz Chaim, shows himself to be conceited, because by speaking as he does, he apparently sees himself as faultless. If he were truly aware of his faults, he would be reluctant to speak badly of others, for perhaps his own faults are greater.

chanoch adds: Or by recognizing his or her own faults the person would not judge the person being spoken about so harshly and would speak more leniently and with more mercy rather than judgment.

The Chofetz Chaim tells us that one who speaks loshon hora in a conceited way violates the commandment “Be careful lest you forget Hashem your G-d” (Devarim 8:11), which prohibits us from acting arrogantly. Arrogance has particularly severe co nsequences because it is singled out as a trait which Hashem especially disdains. The Chofetz Chaim adds that if the speaker of loshon hora raises his own stature in people’s eyes by degrading his victim his offense is even more severe.

chanoch adds: This is frequently the unconscious as well as unfortunately the conscious motivation behind Loshon Harah.

The Chofetz Chaim identifies another sin that one commits when speaking loshon hora. Although transgressing any Torah prohibition is serious, this transgression goes to the heart of a Jew’s purpose in this world, which is to serve Hashem and bring the rest of the world to recognize Hashem’s greatness. The Torah warns us, “You shall not desecrate My Holy Name” (Vayikra 22:32). At all times a Jew must be on guard that his words and behavior not constitute a chillul Hashem (desecration of Hashem’s Name).

How is loshon hora a chillul Hashem?

The Chofetz Chaim explains that when a person speaks loshon hora, it is not because he is lured by some physical enjoyment. Rather than succumbing to earthly temptation, he is merely casting off the restraints of Hashem’s Torah. It is as if he is making a statement: “I understand that Hashem commanded me to refrain from loshon hora, but according to my own priorities, it is just not that important.”

Here is a human being asserting his own priorities over those of the Master of the Universe. He basks in his own glory when he should be humbling himself. He desecrates Hashem’s name when he should be sanctifying it. It is crystal clear then that when a person follows this path, he negates his mission as a Jew in this world.

Day 12 – Two-facedness and Revenge

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM Introduction: Negative Commandments 7-9

One of the worst negative character traits is graphically called “two-facedness.” It means, quite literally, to act with two “faces” — outwardly smiling, inwardly hateful.

chanoch adds: A person on a spiritual path is required to unify these two faces and avoid any aspect of “two-facedness”. If one has hatred in their heart but is unable to express it as described below one is to remove that hatred rather than be two faced. Otherwise one would need to face the fact that they have much spiritual work to complete.

Unfortunately, this trait can be hard to avoid in real life, because we sometimes find ourselves feeling hatred towards someone but unable to express it directly. For example, if you harbor hatred toward your boss, you probably have to restrain yourself from expressing that feeling to him.

The Torah, however, makes no allowance for two-facedness. It conveys to us that acting friendly in someone’s presence while feeling hatred in one’s heart can lead to disasters in human relations. The Torah therefore states: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart” (Vayikra 19:17), which is transgressed whenever we harbor inner hatred toward our fellow.

The Chofetz Chaim teaches us that this prohibition applies in a very direct way to the laws of loshon hora. If we speak loshon hora about someone, we transgress the law “Do not go as a peddler of gossip” (Vayikra 19:16). If we act friendly to that person in a two-faced fashion, we incur the additional sin of harboring hatred in our hearts.

There are times, however, when one may have serious problems with his boss or teacher and is not in a position to discuss this with him, yet needs to discuss the problem with someone. For this case, the Chofetz Chaim teaches us about the laws of toeles, speaking negatively for a constructive purpose. When the proper conditions are met (which we will learn about later in this volume), it is permissible for someone to unburden himself to relieve his emotional pain. When this is done within Torah guidelines, it often results in a healthy solution rather than the backbiting and bitterness that is generated by two-facedness.

The Chofetz Chaim adds that we only worsen the transgression if, after speaking loshon hora we add, “But do not tell him you heard it from me!” This sort of comment makes the matter more secretive and goes to the heart of the sin of harboring hatred towards a fellow.

Two other Torah prohibitions relevant to the laws of loshon hora are those against bearing a grudge and seeking revenge. The Chofetz Chaim states that if we hate a person because he refused to do a favor for us, and later we publicize a wrong which he committed, we have violated these prohibitions, as well as peddled gossip. The above example is, of course, just one possible instance of revenge in the form of loshon hora. Obviously, this rule applies to any situation in which revenge might be the motive for discussing another person’s wrongdoing.

As mentioned earlier, loshon hora is rarely comprised of objective statements. When we hear others speaking loshon hora, we should be aware that such talk is often fueled by anger and a desire for revenge. The speaker feels “I was wronged,” and he is angry to the point that he cannot detect his own lack of objectivity. When hearing loshon hora, it would be a helpful practice to always consider that we are probably not hearing a responsible, objective report of someone’s behavior. Rather, we are hearing the inner rantings of someone’s anger spilling out into words.

Day 13 - Do Not Follow the Crowd

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM Introduction: Negative Commandments 10-11

The Torah tells us that a minimum of two witnesses is needed for testimony in beis din (rabbinical court). If only one person were to testify against someone in beis din, the beis din would not be allowed to accept his testimony. In that case, the testimony would serve no constructive purpose and would be considered loshon hora. In addition, the witness would transgress the prohibition of “A single witness shall not stand up against any man for any wrongdoing” (Devarim 19:15).

The Chofetz Chaim lists yet another prohibition which we can explain as follows: When his life on this world ends, the average person will come before the Heavenly Court and justify all the loshon hora he spoke, with one simple claim — he was a victim of circumstance. He will say that he had no real interest in loshon hora, but all around him people were speaking it, so he really had no choice. In effect, he will say that society made him do it!

The Chofetz Chaim warns us, while we still can do something about it, that this is no defense. In fact, this claim is actually a further indictment, because places that are conducive to speaking loshon hora are off-limits to a G-d fearing Jew, as the Torah states “Do not associate with the majority for evil” (Shemos 23:2).

The Chofetz Chaim teaches us a valuable lesson here, which applies to all aspects of life. People tend to gravitate to places which define their own station in life. They choose where they live, where they pray, who their friends are and what is important to them. Occasionally, a person is truly a victim of circumstance, but for the most part “the place” he makes for himself in this world bears his own unique signature. The Chofetz Chaim advises us, “Make it a good place.”

Day 14 - Causing Strife or Hurt

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM Introduction: Negative Commandments 12-13

A frequent result of speaking loshon hora and especially rechilus (gossip) is machlokes (dispute or controversy).

The president of a school is unhappy with the executive director’s efforts in an unsuccessful school function. He conveys his feelings to a board member who relates the conversation to the executive director. The executive director responds furiously: “He said that the event was a failure because of me? He is the one who never attended any meetings!”

The board member wastes no time in reporting this response to the president. The president sends the volleyball of blame over the net by saying, “I never came to the meetings because he never called me to confirm them!” The executive director then sends the ball back by saying that if the school would hire a secretary for him, then there would finally be someone who had the time to confirm appointments and meetings.

Before anyone realizes what is happening, the disagreement has snowballed into a full-scale machlokes, all because of one small sentence that should not have been repeated, and certainly not to the subject of the comment.

The Chofetz Chaim teaches that when someone speaks loshon hora or rechilus and it generates a machlokes, he is transgressing two negative commandments instead of one. In addition to the sin of loshon hora, he has transgressed the commandment “Do not be like Korach and his assembly” (Bamidbar 17:5) in which the Torah warns us to reject the ways of Korach, who stirred up a terrible rebellion against the leadership of Moshe Rabbeinu.

The Chofetz Chaim introduces us to another type of forbidden speech which many people are unaware is explicitly forbidden by the Torah— ona’as devarim (hurting people with words), verbal abuse. Only recently in social work and psychology has society come to recognize a fact which the Jewish people have known since the Torah was given: words can hurt — and they can hurt a lot; sometimes even more than physical abuse.

People tend to base their own self-image on the way they believe they are perceived by others. When you tell someone repeatedly that he is incompetent, you are actually reaching into his soul and imprinting the word “incompetent” on his self-image. That destructive process, the Torah tells us, is as prohibited as sitting down to a lavish meal of lobster and shrimp.

chanoch adds: The above paragraph needs to be taken to heart in many areas of our life. This is the source of low feminine self image. It is the source of feelings of inferiority and many others.

Ona’as devarim comes in various forms. The Chofetz Chaim discusses the case of a person who reminds someone of his unpleasant past. It is not that there are any particular elements of a person’s history that one may not mention. Any comment which may cause embarrassment or hurt someone’s feelings — it could be a past family problem, a demeaning job, a less than respectable lifestyle — is considered ona’as devarim and is prohibited by the verse “A man shall not cause hurt to his fellow” (Vayikra 25:17).

If the speaker said these hurtful words to others in the subject’s presence, then he has also transgressed the commandment against loshon hora. After all, what could be more damaging to a person’s self-image than to have his faults or weaknesses revealed to those who know him?

Day 15 - Sin Upon Sin

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM Introduction: Negative Commandments 14-15

The Chofetz Chaim now discusses a more severe level of ona’as devarim (verbal abuse). If one relates something negative to others while the subject is present, causing that person not only hurt but also humiliation, then he has transgressed the prohibition “Do not bear a sin because of him” (Vayikra 19:17) which is the Torah prohibition against embarrassing someone. (With this commandment the Torah teaches that even rebuking someone should be done respectfully, so as not to cause the person embarrassment.)

If one embarrasses a person publicly he has to contend with the words of our Sages, “One who shames his friend in public does not have a portion in the World to Come” (Avos 3:11).

The Chofetz Chaim leads us through a loshon hora conversation, keeping count of all the commandments each participant transgresses.

Reuven tells Shimon, “Levi criticized you.” Reuven has now transgressed his first negative commandment, “Do not go as a peddler of gossip among your people” (Vayikra 19:16), as well as several other related sins.

Shimon, who listened to Reuven and believes his report that Levi said something critical about him, has transgressed the commandment “Do not accept a false report” (Shemos 23:1), which is the prohibition against accepting loshon hora. When Shimon now meets Levi, the person who allegedly criticized him, he begins to harangue and humiliate him. Shimon has now transgressed “A man shall not cause hurt to his fellow” (Vayikra 25:17) which pertains to verbal abuse.

Levi is shocked at the abuse he is receiving and demands an explanation. Shimon responds angrily, “Why did you say those terrible things about me to Reuven? Did you think I wasn’t going to find out?” Shimon has now committed a third transgression, that of relating gossip. By repeating what Levi allegedly said to Reuven, Shimon has set Levi against Reuven.

Levi has a defense. “That’s not what happened.” Now Shimon is furious at Reuven. When Shimon meets Reuven he says, “How could you lead me to attack Levi when he said he never even said those words?” Reuven wants to prove himself correct so he says to Shimon, “Oh, so he denies the whole thing? Come and I’ll repeat what he said in his presence!”

Shimon and Reuven find Levi; Shimon says to Reuven, “Tell me again what Levi said about me.” Reuven proceeds to recount the story once again, transgressing the commandment against peddling gossip. This applies to every instance of rechilus (gossip) even if the person knows the information. In addition, by embarrassing Levi, he has violated the commandment against embarrassing people. Levi responds by saying, “It is true, I did say something about you, Shimon, but I did not say it the way Reuven reported it. I did not use that tone and he totally distorted my point.”

chanoch adds: It is important to emphasize that gossip – rechilus is important to not say even if the listeners know the information. It still violates a negative Mitzvah.

Shimon says to Levi, “Do you really think I’m going to believe you, now that Reuven had the courage to repeat your words in front of you?” These words become Shimon’s fourth sin “Do not accept a false report.” When we tally up the sins, we see that Reuven has transgressed three negative Torah commandments while Shimon has violated four.

chanoch adds: It is important to realize that if you hear a story from your friend you are not to believe it without your personal effort to verify its veracity.

The Chofetz Chaim asks, “How could we have ended this story differently?” Even after much of the damage was done, there was still much that could have been salvaged. When Levi defended himself and said, “Yes, I did say something, but I did not say it the way Reuven reported it,” Reuven could have said, “Oh, I see what you mean. I must have misunderstood you.” This would have concluded the story on a peaceful note, averting the last few transgressions.

chanoch adds: It is important to note that the Chofestz Chaim does not say that Reuven's suggested statement is truthful. The Torah says it is ok to lie to bring peace in a marrage. No Sage says it is ok to lie to bring peace between people so do not make that mistake to lie, except to help within someone's marrage; and then expect some chaos in your own life.

If we examine our own lives, we find that this scenario, in one form or another, is extremely common. The Chofetz Chaim advises us to be quick to acknowledge that we misunderstood someone’s alleged harsh words about another. In this way, we will save ourselves and our acquaintances from many disputes and sins.

Day 16 – Flattery

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM Introduction: Negative Commandments 16-17

The Chofetz Chaim confronts us with a classic scenario in office politics: A few employees are speaking with the boss and someone mentions a person whom the boss is known to dislike, either for personal or business reasons. One of the employees, wanting to win the boss’s favor, levels a barrage of criticism against this person.

The Chofetz Chaim sees this as a particularly dangerous strain of loshon hora, because it derives from flattery, which the Torah specifically prohibits when the person being flattered is committing a wrongdoing.

Instead of fueling the fire, says the Chofetz Chaim, the employee should have tried to make peace between the two antagonists. He should have reminded the boss of one of the good points of his adversary. Instead, the employee deepened the boss’s hatred toward that individual.

The Chofetz Chaim writes that flattery is very often the source of loshon hora. It is the dynamic at work when people are engaged in a negative conversation and one nods agreement to the loshon hora spoken or adds some negative thoughts of his own. He is condoning the loshon hora and adding to it, to feel included and win approval of the group.

All this stems from the basic weakness of the need to flatter, which according to a number of Rishonim (Early Commentators) is prohibited by the verse “You shall not bring guilt [lit. flatter] upon the land” (Bamidbar 35:33).

In a case where a person is sitting among a group and hears loshon hora, he is required:

• To come to the defense of the accused and to attempt to convince the people to stop their evil talk.

• At the very least, to refrain from increasing the loshon hora through words or facial expressions which indicate approval of what was said.

chanoch adds: Please note the importance of controling your body and facial expressions called body language.

The Chofetz Chaim states that if the listener merely refrains from offering a defense, he is guilty of an element of flattery, because the motivation in refraining is to avoid saying something that would cause him to lose favor with his friends.

chanoch adds: Many people will respond that is not my motivation. The answer to that assertion is “do you know what your unconscious is thinking?” The Chofetz Chaim does know what the unconscious is thinking, for the majority of human beings. This is one meaning of what it means to be a Tzadik.

Day 17 – Remembrance and Love

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM Introduction: Positive Commandments 1-2

When trying to impress a class of students about the evils of loshon hora, the average teacher would probably use examples of serious cases in which a person’s reputation or livelihood was destroyed, or perhaps of a shidduch (marriage match) which was unnecessarily broken. After all, these are real-life illustrations which clearly demonstrate the danger of loshon hora.

The Torah, however, does the opposite. In teaching us the evils of loshon hora, the Torah relates an incident which is so mild that it has barely a tinge of loshon hora. It is the case of Miriam, who spoke to Aharon about their brother, Moshe (see Bamidbar ch.12). Miriam was punished with tzara’as (a skin disease induced by spiritual impurity), sent out of the camp of the Jews to live in isolation, and the entire Jewish nation, well over a million people, was forced to wait for her to be cured before they could resume their travels.

The Torah commands us to remember the story of Miriam to remind us of the evils of loshon hora, as it is written,“Remember that which Hashem, your God, did to Miriam on the way when you were leaving Egypt” (Devarim 24:9).

The Chofetz Chaim points out how mild this case of loshon hora was. Miriam spoke about her brother, whom she loved and for whom she had risked her own life. She did not say something derogatory about him; all she did was mistakenly equate Moshe with other prophets. Moreover, her words were not said in Moshe’s presence or in public. And we know that Moshe wasn’t hurt by her words and that there was no negative fallout. The Chofetz Chaim explains that this is precisely why the Torah uses this incident to teach us the evils of loshon hora. Despite all these factors and Miriam’s great personal merit, she was still punished.

chanoch adds: Do you know what makes the above situation regarding Miriam Loshon Harah? As said above before day 8 we will review this after we have studied all of this sefer so that one can answer this question.

How much more culpable are people who speak loshon hora that does hurt people and does cause damage! When a person speaks loshon hora, he transgresses this commandment of remembering the lesson of Miriam.

The Chofetz Chaim further states that when one speaks loshon hora, he also violates the commandment “you shall love your fellow as yourself” (Vayikra 19:18). It is obvious that if you speak loshon hora about someone: A. You do not love him, and B. You are not treating him as you would yourself. The proof to this, says the Chofetz Chaim, is that most people are well aware of their own faults, yet they are very intent on concealing them from others. Even if someone were to discover one of our faults, and would tell some of our friends about it, we would hope that they would not believe him.

This is because we really love ourselves, and we do not want others to view us in a negative way. The Chofetz Chaim says that this attitude is precisely what the Torah wants us to apply to our fellow man. Just as we would be horrified to overhear our peers reviewing our faults, we should be equally horrified to participate in a similar conversation about someone else. And just as we are so caring and protective of our own egos, so must we be equally caring and protective of the pride of others.

Day 18 – Favorable Judgments and Financial Assistance

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM Introduction: Positive Commandments 3-4

If we were to search for the first spark of loshon hora as it begins to develop in a person’s mind, we would find it in the part of the brain that makes judgments. Every day, many times a day, each of us observes other people’s actions, and we can choose to judge those actions positively or negatively. For many people, the first response is to judge negatively. The Chofetz Chaim tells us that when loshon hora results from negative judgment, it is a violation of the commandment to judge people favorably (Vayikra 19:15). Even if the person is a beinoni (an average individual, someone who is neither righteous nor wicked) and certainly if he is known as a G-d-fearing individual, we are obligated by the Torah to judge his actions and words in a positive way.

The Chofetz Chaim explains that judging favorably does not mean being naive. In fact, it means thinking on a more sophisticated level. In most cases, when we gather the facts and look beneath the surface, many of our negative impressions of other people’s behavior stem from misunderstandings or misjudgments. If we do judge negatively, and this judgment emerges in the words we speak, we have transformed the negative judgment into loshon hora.

Sometimes loshon hora results in economic damage. It can cause employees not to be hired, loans not to be issued and stores not to be patronized. If someone tells me that a certain clothing store is overpriced, it is almost certain that I will not shop there. A seemingly harmless remark has caused real financial harm to that storekeeper.

Obviously, there are exceptions to this rule. There are times when it is allowed, and even mandatory, to warn others about possible economic harm. These will be discussed in the section on toeles (negative statements that serve a constructive purpose) later in this volume.

chanoch adds: Many times students response to the process of learning the Halacha of Loshon Harah is to think and then say that I can not say anything because everything is loshon harah. This is not true and it needs to be realized before these thoughts manifest in your mind and actions.

When economic damage is the outcome of loshon hora, the commandment “and your brother shall live with you” (Vayikra 25:36) has also been violated. This commandment instructs us to help our fellow Jew by finding him employment, doing business with him or loaning him money. The Torah’s intent, the Chofetz Chaim tells us, is to strengthen our fellow Jew’s situation so that he does not fall into difficult economic straits. To hurt someone’s financial standing through loshon hora is to violate this mitzvah.

Day 19 – Rebuke and Economics

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM Introduction: Positive Commandments 5-6

Imagine meeting a friend of yours as he exits a restaurant that was once kosher but was recently taken over by non-Jews and is no longer kosher. Your friend was not aware of this information and is holding a sizzling hot frank in his hand, which he is about to bite into. You feel a bit uncomfortable depriving him of this earthly pleasure, so you decide to hold off and let him take one bite. Once he has savored that first bite, you ask yourself: ”How can I limit him to one measly bite?” And once he has had a few bites, you tell yourself: ”Why not let him have the few more bites it will take to finish the frank?” Finally, when the last bite is finished, you tell your friend that he has just eaten a non-kosher frank.

Of course, this is an outrageous story. It seems like something that could never happen. The Chofetz Chaim informs us that, surprisingly, something quite similar is liable to happen every day. If we allow someone to continue a conversation of loshon hora, it is as if we are allowing him to eat non-kosher food. And informing him after the conversation that he has spoken loshon hora does not absolve us of guilt. Just as each bite of non-kosher food is a separate violation of a negative commandment, so too is each and every word of loshon hora a transgression for itself. The Chofetz Chaim says that to refrain from rebuking someone who speaks loshon hora is a violation of the commandment to rebuke one’s fellow Jew (Vayikra 19:17). On the other hand, offering rebuke, especially when it is an uncomfortable task, is considered a great mitzvah.

The Chofetz Chaim details for us another positive commandment. Observant Jews are especially aware of the influence of one’s environment. A person who spends time with people who are immersed in Torah learning and serving the community adopts their standards, which become the benchmark of his aspirations. Their goals become his goals and their dreams, to a certain extent, become his dreams. It is so important to have positive influences in our lives that Hashem made it a positive commandment to associate with Torah scholars. The Torah states, “To Him shall you cleave” (Devarim 10:20), which our Sages interpret to mean that one should associate with those who are immersed in Torah and devoted to its fulfillment.

The Chofetz Chaim teaches us that if we gravitate to groups in shul (synagogue) who engage in loshon hora, we set up a major obstacle towards fulfilling this commandment. The Chofetz Chaim specifically focuses on loshon hora spoken in shul after Shalosh Seudos (the third Sabbath meal) because it is then that Torah scholars are engrossed in their learning and leitzim (scoffers) are engrossed in their loshon hora. We should be extremely careful with whom we associate because this will have a major impact on our lives.

Day 20 - In the Palace of the King

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM Introduction: Positive Commandments 7-8

After the Destruction of the Beis Hamikdash (Temple), Hashem gave us a vital gift which would enable us to survive this long and bitter exile. He allowed the Shechinah (Divine Presence) to manifest itself to some degree in the beis haknesses (shul or synagogue) and beis hamidrash (study hall). To this day, the beis haknesses and the beis hamidrash remain places where a Jew can connect with his Creator in a very profound way.

Against this backdrop, says the Chofetz Chaim, one can recognize the full gravity of speaking loshon hora in shul. From the words “and My Holy Place you should fear” (Vayikra 19:30) we learn that a Jew must treat his shul with dignity and only tread in it for holy pursuits. This commandment prohibits all forms of mundane conversation in shul. How much more so does this prohibition apply to loshon hora or rechilus, which indicate a complete lack of fear of Hashem, Whose presence is especially manifest in such holy places.

chanoch adds: It is most common for people to speak in Synogogue today. This is because Satan wants to have people speak about mundane items in shul since those mundane words create separation between that person and his or her listeners and HaShem. This is due especially because the Synagogues and Study Hall have aspects of Holyness.

The Chofetz Chaim states that the hidden message which a person communicates when he speaks loshon hora in shul, God forbid, is that he does not really believe that Hashem resides there. Only with such an attitude could a person feel free to disobey Hashem’s rules in His own house. The Zohar says that the sin of ignoring Hashem in His house has grave spiritual repercussions in the upper worlds.

The Chofetz Chaim writes, “Since we are discussing the sin of speaking loshon hora in shul, I must tell you of the great misfortune that this causes.”

A person tells his friend his stories which are laced from beginning to end with loshon hora, and he finds a most convenient time for this: immediately before the reading of the Torah. But when the congregation is ready to begin reading the Torah portion, the storyteller is still not finished. Now the yetzer hora (evil inclination) whispers in this person’s ear, “This is a great story. You’ve got to finish it.” So the storyteller and his eager listener continue their conversation throughout the reading of the Torah. In doing so, they not only transgress a long list of prohibitions, but they also commit the overriding sin of creating a public chillul Hashem (desecration of Hashem’s Name) as they flagrantly ignore Hashem’s Presence in His house and at the same time cause disgrace to the Torah.

The Chofetz Chaim tallies what this “important story” is going to bring these two people on the Heavenly scales of judgment.

They have spoken and listened to loshon hora, which almost always includes many prohibitions.

They have violated, “And you shall not defame My Holy Name” (Vayikra 22:32), a sin which is compounded by the fact that it was committed in the presence of ten or more Jews.

chanoch adds: Do you know why loshon harah committed in front of a minyan compounds the sin? We read about above. It is because 10 people are in the room and on a spiritual level they have the obligation to stop it and don't. This means the two people are the cause of these other 10 not telling them to stop because they do not know about it yet the original two receive the effect of the 10 not doing what they need to.

They have disregarded the Torah reading, as it is written, “And those who forsake Hashem will perish” (Yeshayahu 1:28).

They have engaged in devarim beteilim (meaningless conversation) in shul.

“Woe to the speaker and the listener!” writes the Chofetz Chaim. He quotes the Vilna Gaon who states that it is impossible to comprehend the Heavenly punishment which such conversation can bring upon the participants.

The Chofetz Chaim adds another thought regarding those who speak during the reading of the Torah. The Torah reading concludes with Kaddish and it is highly unlikely that they will stop their conversation to answer to this all-important prayer. This is an incalculable loss. Our Sages, of blessed memory, have taught us the awesome power of answering “Amein. Yehei shemei rabba …” (“Amen.May His great name be blessed…”). By answering with proper concentration and intent, one can cause severe Heavenly decrees to be broken. Several times each day, when Kaddish is recited, Hashem gives us the priceless opportunity to earn tremendous merit with just a few seconds of effort.

Imagine if someone offered you a check for one million dollars, with the only requirement being that you exert the miniscule effort of lifting the check off the table and putting it in your pocket. The reward for answering “Amein. Yehei shemei rabba …” is much more than that, yet the storytellers are oblivious to this, essentially leaving millions of dollars sitting on the table, untouched.

chanoch adds: By saying Amein – Yehi Shemei Rabah and the other 25 words for a total of words before the reader reaches a certain point in the Kaddish we are taught that we remove 70 years of judgment for a part of the Jewish Nation. That part is one person.

Day 21 - The Elderly, the Family

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM Introduction: Positive Commandments 9-10

In this segment, the Chofetz Chaim adds another dimension to the issue of loshon hora, focusing on additional sins that can be transgressed when loshon hora is spoken about certain types of people.

For instance, if someone were to speak loshon hora about an elderly person, he would be violating the mitzvah “In the presence of the elderly you shall rise [and you shall beautify … see Kiddushin 31b]”(Vayikra 19:32), which teaches us to treat our elders with respect and honor. Certainly, says the Chofetz Chaim, loshon hora demonstrates a lack of respect. If the subject of loshon hora is a Torah scholar one violates the commandment to honor a talmid chacham, and may, in certain circumstances, be guilty of actual heresy. If the victim of loshon hora is a Kohen then the positive commandment “V’Kidashto“(Vayikra 21:8), which teaches us to treat Kohanim with added respect, has also been transgressed.

We know that, often, people act toward those outside their family circle with more respect than they show toward the members of their own family. Many Torah sources stress that the true barometer of a person’s behavior is not how he treats people when the world is watching, but how he treats his family in the privacy of his home. Unfortunately, in some homes, ridicule plays a big part in family interaction. Sometimes, God forbid, a parent is the victim of these barbs, especially when the children are married and their parents are not present to hear their comments. The yetzer hara (evil inclination) has a very effective method for opening the door to this type of loshon hora. He says, “Maybe you can refrain from speaking loshon hora outside the home, but the boundaries of shmiras haloshon (guarding one’s speech) stop at your front door. Within the family, people are close and contact is constant, and shmiras haloshon is all but impossible.”

The Chofetz Chaim teaches that speaking negatively of an older sibling, a step-parent or, God forbid, a father or mother, is not only loshon hora, it is a violation of the commandment “Honor your father and mother” (Shemos 20:12). There is also a curse applied to children who show parents disrespect: “Cursed is he who degrades his father or mother” (Devarim 27:16).

One of the primary reasons Hashem created the family unit was so that it could be a workshop, a place for the neshamah (soul) to develop. The home is where we learn to be less self-centered, where we develop a love of chesed (kindness) towards others. When the laws of shmiras halashon guide the family’s interactions, each neshamah which this “workshop” produces can develop to its full, rich potential.

chanoch adds: Please reread the above paragraph. Please take it to heart and teach it diligently to your children.

Day 22 - The Value of Time

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM Introduction: Positive Commandments 11-12

One of the great recent innovations in the computer industry is multi-tasking, meaning that computers now have the ability to run several software programs simultaneously. The Chofetz Chaim tells us that a person also has to run two “programs” through his mind at the same time. One thought process is used to accomplish whatever task we are presently engaged in. The second process is a constant scanning of the first process, to ensure that it is in line with the commandment “be aware of and fear Hashem at all times.” When we are confronted with a choice of acting or not acting, of speaking or not speaking, we should always ask ourselves, “What does Hashem want me to do?”

A person who speaks loshon hora has clearly lost his focus, at least for a few moments, on what Hashem wants of him. He is acting as if Hashem is not present, God forbid. Therefore, he violates the commandment to imbue oneself with fear of Hashem.

The Chofetz Chaim teaches us that when a person speaks loshon hora, he is wasting one of the most precious commodities this world has to offer — time.

There is no limit to the reward for learning Torah. It is by far the most precious mitzvah a person can do. The only excuse a person has for not studying Torah the entire day is that he has other important matters, such as earning a living, to which he must attend.

Speaking loshon hora is certainly not something which one should be doing, and so the time spent speaking loshon hora is unjustifiably being lost — a sin of bitul Torah (wasting time that should be dedicated to learning). Furthermore, our Sages, of blessed memory, state, “Just as the mitzvah of Torah study is equal to all the mitzvos of the Torah combined, so too, the sin of loshon hora equals all the sins of the Torah combined” (Yerushalmi, Peah 1:1).

The consequences of this fact are enormous, says the Chofetz Chaim. As an example let us consider the 20–minute wait in some shuls (synagogues) between Minchah and Maariv. Each word of Torah learning is a mitzvah for itself. A person can comfortably speak 150 words a minute. Multiply this by the 20 minutes between Minchah and Maariv, and we have 3,000 spoken words. This means that 3,000 mitzvos can be accomplished in 20 minutes of learning. Unfortunately, the opposite is true with loshon hora. Not only can a person acquire 3,000 sins for speaking 20 minutes of loshon hora, he also would acquire 3,000 sins of bitul Torah. Most tragic of all, he loses the priceless reward of 3,000 precious mitzvos of Torah study which could have been his.

Day 23 - To Walk in His Ways

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM Introduction: Positive Commandments 13-14

When relating the bad points of another person — especially when one becomes swept up in telling a story — it is natural to exaggerate for dramatic effect.

The Chofetz Chaim tells us that even one word of exaggeration constitutes a lie, and when it is spoken in a loshon hora conversation the speaker adds the violation of the commandment “Distance yourself from falsehood” (Shemos 23:7) to his list of transgressions.

The Rambam tells us (Hilchos Dei’os) that a person who exaggerates someone’s bad points is guilty of motzi shem ra, slander, a more severe form of loshon hora.

By requiring every one of us to observe these laws, Hashem, in His infinite wisdom, shows us the power of one word. In truth, we see this ourselves in everyday situations. For instance, if someone is asked for information regarding a shidduch (marriage match), there is a world of a difference between saying, “He is a quiet boy,” and saying, “He is a very quiet boy.” With that one word, a significantly different image of the boy is conveyed.

By saying that he is a quiet boy, the speaker characterizes the boy as thoughtful and reflective. But the description “very quiet” gives rise to the possibility that he is perhaps reclusive or dull. That one word, which very possibly is inaccurate, might be cause for this suggested shidduch to be rejected. This is what one word can do.

The Chofetz Chaim lists one final positive commandment that is transgressed when speaking loshon hora: “And you shall walk in His [Hashem’s] ways” (Devarim 28:9). Hashem’s kindness is boundless; He is deeply pained when we speak badly of Jews, even those who are clearly wrong. Hashem’s way is to wait for people to repent. When we observe the actions of our fellow man, decide that he is guilty, and even go so far as to share our opinion with others, then we have drifted far from the ways of Hashem.

That is why people who speak loshon hora are included among those who are not “permitted to greet the Shechinah” (Sotah 42a). By indicting others through words of loshon hora we have traveled a distance from Hashem that is too far to bridge.

chanoch adds: This last paragraph is polite language. It actually means that we have removed outselves from being close to HaShem and will find it difficult if not impossible to return to this original closeness let alone getting closer.

Day 24 - An Object of Curses

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM Introduction: Curses

This segment concludes the Chofetz Chaim’s introduction to his sefer. Its overriding message is that this seemingly innocuous sin called loshon hora is so destructive to our service of Hashem that it is impossible to ignore its repercussions. The Chofetz Chaim concludes with his closing argument — a section on curses. Not only does a person stunt his spiritual growth and amass countless sins for himself by speaking loshon hora; he actually makes himself the object of two curses written in the Torah.

The first is “Cursed is one who strikes his fellow in secret” (Devarim 27:24). As Rashi explains, the speaker of loshon hora, who whispers derogatory information about others in private, is the subject of this verse.

If a commandment has become irrelevant to a person so that he totally ignores it, then he is included in the curse “Cursed is he who does not uphold the words of this Torah to do them” (Devarim 27:26), and he is classified as a “rebel with regard to one sin.” When a person speaks loshon hora freely and without restraint, it is as if he is saying, “Hashem, You gave me many important things to do — Shabbos, kashrus, Torah study — but shmiras haloshon just does not fit into my particular lifestyle.” Regarding such an attitude, the Chofetz Chaim states,”his sin is too great to be borne” (c.f. Bereishis 4:13) — an expression used by Scripture and our Sages for very severe sins.

The Chofetz Chaim concludes: “And I ask you, my dear reader, to read and reread this Introduction, because more than anything else, it will help you succeed with shmiras haloshon.”