Loshon Harah - Evil Speech Class 2

Day 26 - The Baal Loshon Hora

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Laws of Loshon Hora 1: 3-4

There is a particular statement in the opening chapter of Sefer Chofetz Chaim which seems puzzling. The Chofetz Chaim informs us: “Whatever I have said until now pertains to the occasional speaker of loshon hora, but if, God forbid, the person is a habitual speaker of loshon hora, that person is called a baal loshon hora and the punishment is far worse.”

What is puzzling is that the Chofetz Chaim seems to have changed the subject. We have been talking about the laws of loshon hora and suddenly the Chofetz Chaim is telling us about the punishment that a baal loshon hora receives!

If we delve deeper into the words of the Chofetz Chaim, we see that he is making a crucial point which we need to know from the outset.

There is a tendency among people to view loshon hora as less than a severe sin. If we were to inform someone that the food which he is eating might be non-kosher, he would spit it out immediately. For many people, loshon hora does not evoke the same revulsion. Yet the Chofetz Chaim equates speaking loshon hora with eating non-kosher food.

The Chofetz Chaim is communicating to us here that even an occasional bit of loshon hora is an incredibly destructive sin, both to the speaker and to the Jewish people as a whole. However, if a person goes further and incorporates loshon hora as a regular feature in his everyday speech, if he regularly seeks the bad in others, and complains about their shortcomings — then he is considered a “baal loshon hora” and has entered a new halachic realm.

The baal loshon hora is not just speaking loshon hora — he is denigrating a mitzvah in the Torah and flouting the word of Hashem. It is as if an Orthodox Jew who is careful in his mitzvah observance has just “one little bad habit” — he happens to eat breakfast every morning at McDonald’s.

It is obvious that the “Orthodox Jew” who eats at McDonald’s is not a truly observant Jew. The Chofetz Chaim informs us that someone who regularly speaks loshon hora, like any person who consistently ignores a Torah prohibition, is guilty of much more than committing an isolated sin. He is denying a part of Hashem’s Torah, and therefore casts doubt upon the validity of his entire mitzvah observance.

chanoch's Commentary

Please note that the Chofetz Chaim wrote this Sefer approximately 100 years ago. He wrote this living during the Russian revolution, in a country that had secular people and orthodox people with almost no groups of other middle of the road people. In this vein the idea that using the idea that speaking Loshon Harah is like eating Non Kosher food no longer has the power to motivate or shock people into change. As a teacher of Kabbalah who lives in a building that provides a cafeteria of Kosher Food in which almost 60%, in my estimate, choose to avoid that kosher food and cook at home in a treife kitchen this idea is not a motivation to change. So what will motivate change? Fear of going to Hell or spiritual punishment does not concern these people even though most think of themselves as close to the end of their liveste. In my opinion, what will motivate people to change is a discussion that when one speaks Loshon Harah one hurts other people specifically hurting their children and grandchildren. I am open to other ideas as well. Please send me some other ideas so that I can test them on different groups and different ages. It is truly important that we start to educate people and cause them to change themselves.

Day 27 - A Time to Sacrifice

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Laws of Loshon Hora 1:5-6

Imagine a situation involving a Torah-observant person who works at a large corporation. His boss calls him in one day and says, “There’s an industry meeting this Saturday in Pittsburgh and we need you to be there to represent us.” Certainly, the person would refuse to desecrate Shabbos even if this meant losing his job. Losing one’s source of livelihood is a very difficult matter, yet many would be happy to make this sacrifice for the sake of Shabbos. The Chofetz Chaim teaches us that, similarly, one should be prepared to lose his job rather than transgress the laws of loshon hora, which are prescribed by the Torah.

A person may find himself working for an employer who is perfectly comfortable with character defamation and slander, to the extent that he may view as a fool an employee who does not join in his verbal abuse, and he may be inclined to fire such a person.

This, in fact, is common with salesmen whose company’s standard sales strategy is to “knock” the competition. Honest salesmanship does not preclude saying, “My product has certain qualities that my competition lacks.” What is prohibited is criticizing the competition unnecessarily or by exaggeration.

Furthermore, when speaking loshon hora, one usually transgresses several Torah prohibitions. Each additional prohibition is another reason to undertake sacrifices rather than speak loshon hora.

If we could listen to the inner voice of a person who is willing to lose his job for the sake of Shabbos, we would hear him telling himself, “I understand that I am facing tremendous difficulties by giving up my job, but it is well worth it! How can I even think of desecrating Hashem’s precious day of Shabbos?” When faced with the test of loshon hora, our intuitive response should be the same: ”True, I am facing tremendous difficulties by refusing to participate in such conversations, but it is well worth it! How can I even think of transgressing these all-important commandments of Hashem? How can I entertain the possibility of taking part in that which is the primary cause of our current exile? No sacrifice is too great for the sake of shmiras haloshon!”

chanoch adds: Losing a sale or a job due to avoiding loshon Harah does not usually enter a persons consciousness. Desecrating Shabbat in todays world of the orthodox mind set is “driving on Shabbat” or turning on or off lights at home on Shabbat. Many other groups of Children of Israel do not find this as “desecrating Shabbat”. So again today this is not a good motivator.

chanoch also adds: It is important to understand that we hear in this section an important understanding. Loshon Harah is character assasisation even if it is true. Loshon Harah is slander of another person. Loshon Harah is exaggeration even if it is a positive exaggeration.

Day 28 - Points to Ponder

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Laws of Loshon Hora 1:7-9

Consider the following situation:

You are sitting at a wedding and some people at your table begin denigrating someone. One person turns to you and says, “Didn’t you go to school with him? Was he always this way?”

Now you are faced with a test. Will you attempt to change the topic, or do you succumb and add your piece of loshon hora to the conversation?

chanoch adds: what if you said “No he was not like you all are saying about him. He is a wonderful human being who does many good deeds”. Would you think this is Loshon Harah? Obviously to say “yes he has always been like what you have described”. Perhaps both statements are true and both statements are Loshon Harah as we will come to learn.

A difficult test? Perhaps. But it will surely be made easier if you give thought to the following advice from the Chofetz Chaim.

Take stock of what you are about to do. If you remain strong and refuse to speak loshon hora, there may be people who will consider you self-righteous — something that anyone would want to avoid. On the other hand, if you falter and speak loshon hora, you will have much more to deal with, for you will face embarrassment in the World of Truth, before the King of all kings, Hashem.

The Chofetz Chaim quotes the teaching of our Sages: “Better to be considered a fool your entire life than to have Hashem think of you as a rasha (wicked person) for even a moment.”

The Chofetz Chaim adds that it is precisely regarding such situations, where one feels pressured to speak loshon hora and does not succumb, that our Sages say, ”For every moment that a person closes his mouth [and refrains from speaking loshon hora] he merits a hidden light that no angel or earthly creature can fathom.”

chanoch adds: This paragraph is a motivation to me. Yet this is because I have had personal experience of what the Chofetz Chaim speaks about. Yet for most people in our secular modern world does not so to them this paragraph is just words. This is why Kabbalah needs to be taught and learned so that each human being will have this personal experience of the Creator.

In this segment, the Chofetz Chaim teaches us about non-verbal loshon hora, the type we refer to as “body language.” As we all know, a wink of the eye or a twitch of the nose can sometimes communicate major statements about someone’s personality or behavior. Such communication carries the full halachic weight of the prohibitions regarding loshon hora. Written loshon hora is also included in these prohibitions.

In concluding this opening chapter, which discusses common misconceptions about loshon hora, the Chofetz Chaim notes, “Even if you include yourself when denigrating someone, you have still spoken loshon hora.”

It is important to note that this type of loshon hora is forbidden even if the reputation of the speaker is also damaged. Including oneself in a derogatory remark does not make it permissible.

Day 29 – Wholesale Destruction

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Laws of Loshon Hora 2:1-2

The Chofetz Chaim gives us many deep spiritual reasons which explain the destructiveness of loshon hora. But to study what loshon hora really does we must enter the mind of the mekabel, the listener of loshon hora. If the listener had a positive or neutral opinion of the subject before the fateful conversation, it is virtually certain that after hearing the derogatory statement (even without verifying its truth) he now has a lowered opinion of the person.

Simply stated, when one speaks loshon hora, one damages the reputation of a fellow Jew.

The Chofetz Chaim analyzes the ramifications of speaking loshon hora before a group. If a person speaks loshon hora before ten people, for example, he has done much more than harm his subject one time. He has damaged his reputation ten times!

chanoch adds: Ten Times at Least because one does not know to how many people each person will repeat this statement – story. On a spiritual tribunal level each time the statement is repeated by others a certain amount of that negative energy and chaos will be attributed to the original speaker of the Loshon Harah.

The larger the audience, the more sins accrued – chanoch adds: to the original speaker and all subsequent speakers. This is why loshon hora stands virtually alone in its potential for accumulating sins.

The Chofetz Chaim also cites the famous Talmudic case of “api tlasa,” in the presence of three, where derogatory information was spoken in the presence of three or more people. Because this halachah is widely misunderstood, the Chofetz Chaim deals with it early in this work.

The license of api tlasa exists only in very specific cases. A statement which would otherwise be forbidden because it might be loshon hora may be permitted if stated before three people. This is because a statement heard by three people will, in all likelihood, find its way to the ears of the subject. This factor allows us to assume that the statement, which has both a positive and a negative interpretation, was actually meant in a positive way, and therefore is not loshon hora.

chanoch adds: The above paragraph is confusing, in my opinion. What the paragraph says is a statement that is considered Loshon Harah might be allowed when it is said before 3 people may not be attributed on the spiritual level to actually be Loshon Harah. The reason behind this leniency is that if three people hear a statement it can be assumed that every person in the community will hear that same statement. Thus we also make the assumption that the statement is meant as a positive statement rather than a negative statement. In my opinion, it is best to take this leniency as not existing since it is making two assumptions and when ever we assume something we make “an ass of u and me”. - look at the word assume and you will understand this last statement.

Many people have fallen victim to loshon hora by erroneously thinking, “If I say something derogatory about someone in public it is not prohibited, due to the principle of api tlasa.” This could not be further from the truth. To the contrary, the larger the crowd when a statement is made, the more the subject’s reputation is damaged and the greater the transgression of speaking loshon hora.

Therefore, the Chofetz Chaim goes to great lengths to clarify this issue. He offers the following case:

A stranger arrives in town and asks a group of people where he can get food. Someone tells him, “Levi always has food cooking on his stove.” These words can be understood in opposite ways. Either the person is generous and always has guests, or he is always eating. Because this statement can be understood negatively, if it had not been spoken in front of three people, it would be classified as avak loshon hora (the dust of loshon hora) and would be forbidden. The law of api tlasa says that a person would not make a derogatory remark about someone if he knew that it would get back to the subject. When there are at least three people listening, we can assume that one of them will report the statement to its subject. Therefore, in the Chofetz Chaim’s example, we should assume that the speaker meant to say, “Levi is generous and always has guests.” However, in a case where the statement is definitely derogatory, the license of api tlasa does not apply.

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.”

Day 25 - The Truth Hurts

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Laws of Loshon Hora 1:1-2

In the first chapter of Sefer Chofetz Chaim, some common myths concerning loshon hora are shattered.

The Chofetz Chaim begins by correcting the single biggest misconception, a point so crucial that it is expressed in the chapter’s very first words: It is forbidden to relate derogatory information about a person even if the information is true. The Chofetz Chaim continues: Our Sages, of blessed memory, define this activity as loshon hora. The recounting of true derogatory information about another is the classic case of loshon hora.

chanoch adds: It is important to realize that what one considers derogatory or not derogatory is different in the spiritual world than in the physical world. An example is telling someone they look nice MAY be considered derogatory in the spiritual world depending on the emotions and intentions in the unconscious realm of our minds.

Each of us can recall a conversation in which someone told us loshon hora. If we could probe the mind of the speaker and study his rationale in relating something derogatory about a fellow Jew, we would likely find that he felt justified in repeating it since the information was true. If we were to suggest to the speaker that this is loshon hora, nine times out of ten he would respond, “But it’s true.”

Now, if this derogatory information were about the speaker’s brother, father, son or daughter, he would surely be much more reluctant to share it with us. The justification that “it’s true” would be overshadowed by the natural protective feeling we have for people whom we love.

chanoch adds: The Chofetz Chaim is giving us a clear message that evaluating what we say before we say it is to think I am saying this about someone I love. Will I be willing to say this about that person I love? If no then do not say it. If yes still think twice about saying this.

The Chofetz Chaim begins his sefer by telling us, “It does not matter if it is true.” Hashem wants us to be as protective of every Jew’s reputation as if he or she were our own brother or sister. Just as one would be loathe to spread negative information about one’s sister or brother, regardless of the fact that the information is true, so too, should we be loathe to spread negative information about any Jew.

chanoch adds: If Rabbi Ashlag would have written the above paragraph, in my opinion, he would have substituted the words Children of Israel for the word Jew. Please keep this in mind as you continue to read and listen to these classes.

Once again, the Chofetz Chaim cites the negative commandment “You shall not go as a peddler of gossip among your people” (Vayikra 19:16), for this is the primary verse which prohibits speaking loshon hora.

The Chofetz Chaim paints the picture of a peddler with a sack slung over his shoulder. But instead of fruit or clothing, this sack contains negative information. The speaker of loshon hora is a peddler, who travels from person to person distributing his sinful wares. Though we don’t see ourselves as “peddlers,” almost any conversation containing loshon hora is one in which one person “delivers” to another, negative information that he is carrying within his mind.

One of the main reasons why loshon hora is so despicable in the eyes of Hashem is because filling one’s mind with negative information and peddling it to others is a lowly act, and Hashem does not want Jews to act in a lowly way.

chanoch adds: What is your definition of “lowly way or manner”?