SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Laws of Loshon Hora 2:3-4
In the previous segment, we were introduced to the license of “api tlasa,” which is widely misunderstood. The Chofetz Chaim sees this as a major pitfall in the observance of shmiras haloshon. The Chofetz Chaim demonstrates that the conditions for the license of api tlasa are virtually impossible to meet. He therefore warns us against relying on this license.
As we all know, it is virtually impossible to keep something secret once it has been told to a group. This is the basis for the Rambam’s approach to the Talmud’s discussion of api tlasa, which permits a person to repeat information that has been said in the presence of three or more people. A group of three is considered a public forum, and whatever is said in such a setting is certain to become publicized. Therefore, someone who repeats the information is not really causing any harm, because whoever hears it from him would have heard it anyway. Accordingly, writes the Rambam, information heard by three or more people is not subject to the prohibition of loshon hora.
However, as we have mentioned, this license is subject to many limitations, which the Chofetz Chaim delineates.
Repeating the information is permitted only if the topic happens to come up in conversation and if the information is related in a matter-of-fact manner. However, even the Rambam agrees that it is absolutely prohibited to repeat the derogatory information for the purpose of spreading it or disgracing the person involved.
Furthermore, this license applies only to those who were among the three or more present when the information was originally disclosed. Someone who hears the information from one of these people is forbidden to spread it further. Thus, if Reuven relates Shimon’s misdeed to Levi, Yehuda and Binyamin, only they can repeat it by relying on the license of api tlasa. For anyone else to do so would be forbidden.
The next segment will discuss another condition which the Chofetz Chaim sets forth regarding the laws of api tlasa.
SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Laws of Loshon Hora 2:5-6
The Chofetz Chaim continues to outline the limitations to the Rambam’s heter (license) called “Api Tlasa” (in the presence of three).
If the three listeners were sincerely devout Jews who totally refrain from any form of loshon hora, it is almost certain that the information will not spread further. Therefore, api tlasa would not apply. Furthermore, the Chofetz Chaim rules that even if only one of the three is known to avoid any form of loshon hora, there is no longer a group of three poised to circulate the information. We then view the situation as if the information was disclosed to only two people, in which case the license of api tlasa does not apply.
The same applies if one of the three is a relative or close friend of the subject of the loshon hora. Given his loyalty to that person, it is unlikely that he will spread derogatory information about him. In this case, too, there is no basis to allow the others to repeat the information.
The leniency of api tlasa is also limited geographically. Information about someone in a community is likely to spread within his community; it is not likely to be of interest elsewhere. Therefore, only within that community can we assume that the information will become publicized and only there does the license of api tlasa apply. In a case of unusually shocking information, which is of interest even outside the immediate community, the license would extend as far as the information could be expected to circulate.
Given all of these limitations, it is clear that the license of api tlasa is rarely applicable. In addition, it is subject to dispute: many poskim (authorities of Jewish law) disagree with the Rambam’s interpretation. Therefore, the Chofetz Chaim concludes that we should avoid making use of this license altogether.
SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Laws of Loshon Hora 2:7-8
Consider the following case:
Someone speaks loshon hora before a crowd of ten people, one of them being yourself. Later, you overhear two of the listeners relating the information. Following the rule of “api tlasa” (which we discussed earlier), it would seem that you should certainly be allowed to mention this information in everyday conversation.
Not necessarily, says the Chofetz Chaim.
If the speaker specifically told his listeners that he does not want the information to go any further,Mathen no one is permitted to repeat it. This applies even if two or more of the listeners have already ignored the instruction.
chanoch adds: Just because two or more have repeated the story does not mean that you have permission. Maybe you will even hear the same story again and again. Remember just because you hear a story over and over does not change the fact that it may not be truth or even if truth that it really needs to be repeated.
While the Chofetz Chaim is discussing a case involving loshon hora, it is important to note that any information revealed in confidence should not be repeated.
chanoch adds: Let us all say Amen. Do you want your secrets revealed? No of course not. Treat other people the way you want to be treated. Don't repeat something given in confidence since you don't want your secrets revealed. Also even if you want your secrets revealed don't do this to others as they have expressed their desire to keep it secret.
The reason for this is obvious. Revealing a secret can have the same negative effects as common loshon hora. If a person tells you, “I have a great business idea,” and you pass this information on to others, someone may come along and make use of the idea. So harmful are such leaks that large corporations spend heavily on security to protect their private information.
chanoch adds: I have a personal experience story that relates to this idea from the above paragraph. A student of Rav Phillip Berg told him about a new business venture that he wanted to invest within and asked the Rav's opinion. The Rav told the student he should make the investment and make sure to keep it quiet and secret. The student made the investment and told a number of other students about the investment. His reason for going against the Rav's advice is these are all spiritual people and will keep a secret. Another company came to market first and all of these investments were lost. The original investor student lost all of his wealth through this process and needed to move to Canada to avoid his creditors. Before he left he asked the Rav about this issue: Why did the Rav not tell him about the other company? The Rav said I did but you did not listen. I told you to keep it secret. The student responded that he only told spiritual people. The Rav then said to the student it is time to study the spiritual system and realize there is more perfect knowledge and wisdom in the spiritual worlds.
Another potential fallout of divulging secrets is the risk of creating bad feelings. For example:
Your sister informs you confidentially that she is planning to buy a house. A few days later, you casually mention this to your brother. What you did not anticipate is that your brother feels insulted because your sister did not tell him this piece of news. Just as with rechilus (gossip), information which is related in confidence can cause animosity when passed on to another party.
Generally speaking, when someone is told personal information, he should not repeat it even if the speaker did not mention that it is confidential. This is the only sure way to avoid potential damage. What is seemingly a harmless piece of information may be explosive when repeated to someone else. For example:
If your sister were to tell you that she purchased an expensive painting, this would seem to be a harmless piece of information. However, when such information is repeated to your sister’s close friend, it might have a very negative effect, because your sister has recently refused her friend a loan on the grounds that she has no money to spare.
However, personal information may be repeated when it was said in front of three people (and the speaker did not request that it be held in confidence). By speaking in the presence of three, the speaker has shown that he does not mind if the information goes further.
From these laws we learn that seemingly innocuous statements have the power to cause tremendous harm. Through shmiras haloshon our words will not bring about unintended hurt or animosity among our family and friends.
chanoch adds: shmiras haloshon is guarding our tongues or speech. The general discussion of this section is that it requires us to become aware of conversations that we have no physical way of knowing about these conversations since they take place out of our hearing. Or we can just not say things about a third party to someone we are speaking to. We don't need to say something personal about our sister to our brother. We don't need to say something personal about our family to friends. We don't need to say something personal about our family to our friends. Consider what I have said in this additional commentary
SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Laws of Loshon Hora 2:9-10
If you have ever been present while a group of people discuss someone in depth, you have probably observed the great human impulse toward amateur psychoanalysis. Such discussions usually include not only the subject’s faults and problems, but also an extended analysis of his parents and friends and how they impacted on his personality. When the group is intent on guaranteeing that their “armchair analysis” is complete, they make sure to carefully analyze every member of the subject’s immediate family.
To spare every Jew the “benefit” of such unsolicited analysis, the Torah forbids us to discuss past faults or transgressions of a person or his family.
Generally, there are two variations of this kind of loshon hora. One is clearly derogatory:
“Did you know her mother? I knew her mother. If you knew her mother then you would understand everything about her!”
The other example is what’s commonly called “a backhanded compliment:”
“Look how far she’s come in straightening out her life!”
Even if the person’s less-than-admirable past is widely known, it is forbidden to allude to it if it is degrading to the person. Emphasizing that the person has come “a long way” in his mitzvah observance does not make this permissible, nor does the fact that your intention is to compliment him.
In forthcoming segments, we will discuss what to do when shidduch (suggested marriage match) information is needed. Generally speaking, however, negative information about parents or family should not be reported unless it could have a direct bearing on the party’s marriage (such as health or emotional stability).
The Torah judges statements concerning one’s past according to the impact they will have upon the listener. In the above cases, past information will cause people to lower their opinion of the subject. Often, this is all that is needed to tip the balance against a prospective shidduch or job application. In the Torah’s view, this would be unfortunate and unnecessary. Just as Hashem judges each of us according to our present level, and He does not hold us accountable for our ancestors’ or our own past misdeeds (assuming we have repented), so too, are we expected to evaluate our fellow Jew according to his present level.
SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Laws of Loshon Hora 2:11
Any salesman can tell you from experience that people are very uncomfortable saying “no.” They will come up with all types of ingenious excuses in order to avoid a flat refusal because they associate some sort of guilt with an outright negative response. If this is true when rejecting a product, it is surely the case when rejecting someone’s candidacy for a position.
The Chofetz Chaim cautions us that when this tendency is manifest after committee meetings, where the fate of an employee, teacher, or new vendor has been decided, the results can be destructive.
When the committee meeting results in a rejection of a potential employee and certainly of an existing employee, the natural human reaction of each member is to shift the blame and avoid taking any responsibility for the rejection. One short sentence accomplishes this:
“I really wanted you, but what could I do? I was outvoted!”
Such a statement is a most dangerous form of loshon hora. Because such meetings may very well decide a person’s future, blaming someone for the decision may, quite possibly, plant the seeds of strife.
Another case in point is when a committee has to judge a dispute, as in a salary disagreement or a din Torah. The desire to avoid being blamed for a negative decision might prompt one to say: “Actually, I wanted to go easy on you, but Mr. Cohen controlled the meeting and he pushed it through.” Or without mentioning names one might say, “Well, I voted for you.” Such statements are forbidden.
It makes no difference, says the Chofetz Chaim, whether the meeting was “closed” or “open”; it is forbidden to disclose information concerning the voting. Even if the person who was rejected were to insult you, and even if you actually voted for him, it is forbidden to reveal anything. Even if the person pressures you intensely, merely to find out who voted in his favor, it is forbidden to reveal anything, because he will learn who voted against him by deduction.
The laws of loshon hora are Hashem’s blueprint for human interaction. By following them faithfully, one will remove the potential for strife, hatred and anger in his or her life. A committee meeting to decide the future of a person’s employment is an atmosphere charged with tension and ripe for strife. Sometimes hurtful decisions need to be made, but if the committee takes a unified stand so that no one is blamed for the decision, then the fallout of these meetings will be kept to a minimum.
SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Laws of Loshon Hora 2:12-13
If one were to conduct an exit poll at the conclusion of a lecture, he might possibly hear dozens of varying opinions on how well the lecturer spoke. While many of the opinions might be positive, there is a likely chance that at least some would be negative. Criticisms might range from “He doesn’t delve into the subject matter enough,” to “It was so deep, I got lost.”
The Chofetz Chaim teaches us that when leaving a lecture, especially a Torah lecture, there is something we need to realize. Each person judges from his own vantage point. To people who are very knowledgeable, the lecture may not have been deep enough, while to those who lack that depth of knowledge, the lecture might have been too complex. Opinions in such matters are usually subjective. For every complainant about a lecture, there are many people who want exactly that type of delivery. The fact that someone did not enjoy it does not mean that it was not good: it means that the lecture did not suit his particular taste.
The Chofetz Chaim goes to great lengths to emphasize this because many people have the habit of criticizing lectures, unwittingly causing much damage to the lecturer’s reputation.
The halachah identifies a particular nature of the human psyche. We can express it as follows: If I have listened to a lecture and my friend denigrates it, then even if I enjoyed it, I will subsequently think less of the lecture and by extension, the speaker as well. Although at first dissatisfaction with the lecture was only my friend’s feeling, after he shares it with me, it will influence my opinion as well.
That people are entitled to their opinion is a principle held with near-religious fervor in any democracy. The Chofetz Chaim is not telling us that we should not have our own opinions or that we must enjoy every lecture we hear. What he is saying is that we are not allowed to verbalize our negative opinions without a constructive purpose.
SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Laws of Loshon Hora 3:1-2
In this segment, the Chofetz Chaim discusses several well-known misconceptions concerning loshon hora. To the person who says, “It is not loshon hora because it will never get back to the subject,” the Chofetz Chaim responds: It is forbidden anyway. Even if in reality the report will never get back to the person about whom you are speaking, it is nonetheless loshon hora in the full sense.
The second misconception is one of the primary excuses for speaking loshon hora: “This isn’t loshon hora; if he were here, I would say the exact same thing right to his face.” Unfortunately for the speaker, according to halachah, this excuse is entirely unacceptable. By making such statements in the subject’s presence, the speaker would transgress the additional sin of causing hurt through words (ona’as devarim) and possibly the grievous sin of embarrassment as well.
The Chofetz Chaim writes, however, that there are a few cases of statements where the subject’s reaction is taken into account.
“Miriam’s going to be late for our meeting,” a woman tells her co-worker. The statement seems to do nothing more than convey a simple fact. No judgments have been spoken as to whether or not it is bad that she is late.
The Chofetz Chaim says that whether or not such a statement is permissible would depend on how the subject would react if it was said in her presence. Here, we take into account the manner in which the statement was given over; i.e., the tone of voice, body motions, etc.
If the statement is said derisively, it is obviously forbidden. An example of this would be if the woman speaks in an anger-tinged tone that is filled with frustration: “Miriam’s going to be late for our meeting!” and then rolls her eyes upward, to complete the message of displeasure.
The ultimate loshon hora barometer is one simple criterion: If the statement comes across as derogatory, then the Torah demands restraint.
SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Laws of Loshon Hora 3:3-4
The crucial point about humor is that its enjoyment is dependent upon which side of the joke you are on.
Think back to the last time a group of people laughed at you for some reason, telling you in all sincerity, “It was just a joke!” They may have laughed because you did something foolish, or because your boss jokingly said, “If you don’t get that report in by tomorrow, I guess you are going to be taking a long vacation.” Initially, you may have laughed along so as not to seem like a bad sport. Somehow, though, when you are on the receiving end, the remark is not at all amusing. And sometimes, you may get the feeling that the joke contains at least a kernel of truth.
It is this point that the Chofetz Chaim addresses. To the person who, after speaking loshon hora, says, “I’m joking; come on, I didn’t mean it!” the Chofetz Chaim says, “It is not a joke!” The person’s feelings are hurt. His esteem has been lowered. Words have power even when they are presented as a “joke.” Therefore, if a joke is derogatory in any way, it is forbidden.
chanoch adds: If one thinks honestly one will realize that all jokes are hurting someone or someone's reputation which is the same thing.
In this segment the Chofetz Chaim focuses, once again, on the effect of our words. If one recounts a story and does not mention names, but through other details the listener may come to identify the subject of the story, it is considered loshon hora. Even if the story contains no negative information, but will eventually cause the subject to appear in a bad light, it is still forbidden. Delayed-reaction destruction is still destruction.
As we study the laws of shmiras haloshon in all their detail, we see again and again that Hashem has great displeasure when His children are portrayed in a negative light. Through these laws Hashem is telling us: “All of you are My children; please treat each other with respect and sensitivity.”
SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Laws of Loshon Hora 3:5-6
One of the basic premises of the prohibition against loshon hora is that loshon hora causes damage. Jobs are lost, prospective shidduchim (marriage matches) are rejected, shalom bayis (harmony within the home) is shattered and friendships are dissolved. But causing damage is far from the only reason that loshon hora is forbidden.
The Chofetz Chaim teaches us that loshon hora which does not cause the slightest bit of damage is still considered 100 percent loshon hora. To focus on the shortcomings of another person is lowly, even when no harm results from it.
In reality, it is almost impossible for us to know for certain that the words we speak never cause damage. Words have a life of their own; once they are released into the world they can travel far and wide, and no one can be sure where they will end up. Many stories are told of information that became known years after the words were originally spoken, and which caused great damage.
Let us consider a piece of fairly harmless information which was discussed at a Shabbos table. David, a friend of one of the children at the table, missed a month of school for unknown reasons. In their curiosity, all six people gathered around the table suggested possible reasons for his absence. In years to come, these six people will find themselves at various other tables, in meetings and involved in random conversations. In some of these situations, David’s family name or David himself might come up in conversation. At one of these conversations, one of these six people might mention the information concerning David’s absence in the most innocuous way. He might add the possible reasons for his absence that he recalls hearing at the Shabbos table years earlier.
As the information is passed from person to person, more theories about why he was absent are spoken about as if they were fact. When David is ready to consider marriage, he finds himself hindered by various “reports” concerning his month-long absence in fifth grade. In fact, the “reports” hold no substance, but they are enough to convince many fathers that their daughters would be better off marrying someone with a “clean” medical history. Yes, words are very, very powerful.
SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Laws of Loshon Hora 3:7-8
Imagine if there existed a spiritual secret which would ensure that all your actions would be viewed in Heaven in a positive light. Heavenly angels would come to your defense and would work strenuously to find excuses for your sins. Amazingly, whatever excuse they would offer would gain favor in the Heavenly Court. Their defense would result in your acquittal in many instances and even when the verdict was “Guilty!” you would be dealt with mercifully.
Surely you would be anxious to hire a legal team and even pay millions of dollars to receive this sort of defense. In truth, anyone can obtain these celestial defense lawyers at no charge whatsoever.
It is really quite simple. If we judge our fellow man favorably, then in Heaven we are judged favorably. To the extent that we seek to find excuses for our fellow man’s behavior, the Heavenly angels will seek to find excuses for us. This is the primary benefit—but surely not the only one—of judging others favorably.
The positive commandment “With righteousness you shall judge your fellow “ (Vayikra 19:15), requires one to judge favorably and see his actions in a positive light. If the circumstances can easily be judged favorably, one is absolutely required to do so. If circumstances lean toward a negative interpretation, nevertheless, says the Chofetz Chaim, it is quite correct to keep an open mind on the matter and not decide that the person is guilty. This is when the person is considered a beinoni (average) in his mitzvah observance. If he is known to be God-fearing, then one is required to judge him favorably even when circumstances lean towards guilt.
There is no question that judging unfavorably is the great engine that drives the “loshon hora machine.” Take the following example:
A person goes to a wedding and tells his friend, “The service was terrible. It really wasn’t worth the money.”
But perhaps the caterer is almost bankrupt and he had to manage three events on the same night just to keep his business afloat and feed his ten children. Awareness of this possibility would certainly impel you to ignore the fact that the roast beef was rather rare and was served a bit late.
The Torah requires us to make allowances for people who don’t live up to our expectations of them. By judging others favorably, says the Chofetz Chaim, we will guarantee ourselves great reward in the World to Come, and our lives in this world will be free of strife and low in anger as we become kinder, more understanding individuals.
SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Laws of Loshon Hora 4:1-2
It is a law of “loshon hora physics” that when one speaks loshon hora about the spiritual failings of someone else, that loshon hora is most intense and righteously indignant.
Unfortunately, to many people there is nothing more self-satisfying than identifying and disapproving of someone else’s deficiency; e.g., that someone does not help his parents or learn with his children, or does not do some mitzvah that the speaker happens to observe carefully.
The Chofetz Chaim informs us that it is loshon hora to say that a person has transgressed a positive or negative commandment, whether the mitzvah observance is one generally performed carefully, or one that is largely overlooked. Even if the criticism is only that the person does not do the mitzvah in the optimum manner — for example, he does not spend as much as he should on items for Shabbos — it is forbidden to relate it.
Obviously there are times when mention of someone’s laxity in mitzvah observance might be necessary. At times, one needs to warn a child to stay away from someone who is a bad influence. In such cases, it is worthwhile to ask a posek (halachic authority) how to relate the information in a way that is permitted by halachah and does not create unnecessary harm.
R’ Shamshon Raphael Hirsch once commented on the common urge to speak loshon hora about a fellow Jew’s laxity in mitzvah observance. He said that the soul’s natural tendency is to strive ever higher. If a person is actively involved in Torah and mitzvos, then he is growing spiritually and his soul is content. But if a person is lazy and his actions are not helping his soul to move upward, then he feels inner discontent. He seeks to satisfy this discontent by appearing to be growing spiritually. And how does he accomplish this? By making everyone around him appear smaller. His thinking goes something like this: “If my fellow Jew doesn’t give enough tzedakah (charity) or do some other mitzvah that I am careful to do, then by focusing on his deficiencies, I will feel as if I am higher.”
This type of loshon hora works much like a drug for the soul. When the person makes use of it, he feels righteous and holy. But as soon as its effect wears off, he realizes that he is no higher than before. If anything, he is lower.
The Torah does not want us to find fault with our fellow Jews’ mitzvah observance. When we denigrate Jews, we not only do something lowly, but we also lull ourselves into a false sense of complacency. Nothing good comes from fooling ourselves, from being content with a false sense of spiritual achievement. Hashem wants us to strive for holiness in our lives, to make spiritual gains which are real and meaningful. The way to do this is by viewing ourselves in an honest, critical way, while seeing others in a positive light.
SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Laws of Loshon Hora 4:3-4
As we have already discussed, there is a tendency to denigrate a fellow Jew whom we see transgressing, and thereby achieve a momentary “high.” On the other hand, the Torah has given us instructions on how to view a person we see transgress, so that we may judge him favorably and interpret his behavior in a more positive way.
The Chofetz Chaim says: If the subject is an “average” person, which means he generally guards himself from sin but does transgress occasionally, then we should attribute his lapse to one of three things: Either he did it accidentally (as in the case of a storekeeper who gives you the wrong change), or he did not know it is forbidden (as in the case of a person who transgressed a Shabbos law), or he mistakenly thought that this particular mitzvah is a midas chasidus, an act of piety reserved for people who want to be especially stringent.
This is what we should tell ourselves, even if we see the person transgress several times. We must judge him favorably and it is forbidden to feel animosity towards him because of what we have seen.
The halachah is different, however, when we are certain that the person knows that a particular act is forbidden, and we see him transgress purposely and with specific intent— for example, he walked into McDonald’s and ate a hamburger. If we know that such an act is out of character for this person and he probably did it only this one time and it was not done publicly (in the presence of other observant Jews), then it is forbidden to reveal this information. The Torah requires us to consider the possibility that the person has already engaged in teshuvah (repentance) and we will embarrass him unnecessarily by speaking about the incident.
However, we should approach the person privately and speak to him concerning his transgression. But the Chofetz Chaim cautions: make sure to speak gently and with respect. People are receptive to criticism only when they are treated with respect and shown genuine concern. Furthermore, the Torah cautions us not to rebuke in a hurtful or insulting way. We are commanded: “You shall surely reprove your fellow and do not bear a sin because of him” (Vayikra 19:17). The latter half of this verse teaches us that it is a serious sin to embarrass someone in public even while offering well-intentioned reproof.
All of the above concerns dealing with the average person. If the person we see transgressing is a talmid chacham (Torah scholar) then it would be a great sin to publicize his misdeed because he surely has repented.
SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Laws of Loshon Hora 4:5-6
In the previous segment, the Chofetz Chaim stressed that when rebuking someone, one must be careful to speak gently and with respect. Here the Chofetz Chaim deals with a different situation. What if you are fairly certain that the person will not heed your rebuke? In this case, you are required to seek someone — for example, a rav, dayan (judge) or parent — to whom the subject will listen, and relate the information to that individual. Make sure, however, that the following three conditions are met:
1. The person to whom you are relating the information must be someone who knows you and who will believe your report.
2. You must give over the information in a sensitive manner.
3. The person to whom you are relating the information must be someone who will handle the matter as discreetly as possible.
Given these conditions, it would be advisable to seek advice from a Torah authority before involving someone else in the process of rebuke.
From these laws, we learn how sensitive the Torah is towards the feelings of all people –- including sinners. Here we are dealing with a person who has sinned intentionally and is not receptive to criticism. Nevertheless, the Torah goes to extreme lengths to protect his reputation, to the point where rebuke is prohibited if it cannot be done in a discreet manner.
The underlying message of these laws is: we Jews are responsible for one another; therefore we have to be concerned when another Jew sins. But at the same time, we have to be equally concerned with protecting that Jew’s feelings, dignity and good name.
We should draw a lesson from these laws to be extremely sensitive to the feelings of every Jew and to avoid tarnishing another Jew’s image through words of loshon hora. By treating each other with love and respect, we will fortify our interpersonal relationships in the way which the Torah desires.
chanoch adds: Given the above section I suggest that one think twice or even 3 times before one rebukes another. It is best to be secure in your knowledge that you are truly “loving” someone.
SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Laws of Loshon Hora 4:7-8
If one were to compile a list of Torah leaders of the past few centuries who most symbolized ahavas Yisrael (love of one’s fellow Jew), the Chofetz Chaim would surely be high on the list. From the Chofetz Chaim’s written works, as well as countless stories about him, it is abundantly clear that he loved every Jew of every shade and stripe.
Nevertheless, in this segment the Chofetz Chaim informs us that when a Jew reaches a certain level of wickedness, it is permissible to tell others of his misdeeds. We are speaking here of a Jew who was raised in a religious environment, but has cast off the yoke of Heaven, God forbid.
Whether the person shamelessly sins in public or refuses to obey the rulings of a beis din (rabbinical court), it is clear that his errant behavior is not a temporary lapse but a deliberate rejection of Torah.
The Chofetz Chaim says that you are allowed to repeat the wrongdoings of such a person whether or not he is present. The reasoning is simple: if we allow a rasha (evil person) to rise up unchecked in our midst and we do not take a stand against the rishus (evil), our silence is not counted as righteousness, but as foolishness for allowing a cancer to grow unhindered.
The Chofetz Chaim takes the uncompromising stand that if you see the rasha do something which you are not sure is wrong, you are supposed to judge him as if he definitely sinned.
It is important to note that we are not speaking here of a person who was deprived of a meaningful Jewish education and whose upbringing was devoid of religious observance. Rambam compares such a person to a tinok shenishbah, a kidnapped Jewish child, who sins out of ignorance. Surely it would be wrong to speak of such a person in a derogatory way.
chanoch adds: A person learns values as a child. If someone is raised in a religious home they are learning to live Torah. Obviously we need to hold them to a standard of “living Torah” which is the idea of the Blessing “lasoak BaTorah”. Others who learn Torah as a Baal Teshuvah always has the potential to fall to his older ways and we can not assume that he truly is on the level of “living Torah”.
In Be’er Mayim Chaim, the Chofetz Chaim explains that speaking against a defiant sinner is not loshon hora because the intent is not to denigrate, but to steer people away from this person and his behavior. Before speaking, one should be sure that his intentions are honorable; if someone hates this individual for personal reasons, then he should not be the one to publicize the person’s misdeeds.
In Tehillim (Psalms 122:7-9) we read: “May there be peace within your walls, serenity within your palaces. For the sake of my brethren and comrades I shall speak of peace in your midst. For the sake of the House of Hashem, our God, I will request good for you.“
The question has been asked: Why does King David pray for peace twice, and then conclude with a request for “good”? The answer is that while peace is the greatest of blessings, nevertheless, for the “sake of the House of Hashem,” we seek not peace but rather tov, what is good and correct. There are times when we must stand up for what is right and speak out against those whose behavior threatens our moral fabric. In this way, we will ensure that the “House of Hashem” remains intact and its Master, Whose essence is peace, will rest His Presence in our midst.
SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Laws of Loshon Hora 4:9-10
In this segment, the Chofetz Chaim reflects on the attitude of a certain type of individual, a sincerely observant person who acts as if he has either missed a very important piece of information, or he has forgotten that it exists. We are speaking of an observant Jew who frequently transgresses a specific commandment in the Torah. Though he displays this behavior on a regular basis, we are not allowed to relate this information to others because the person may not realize the severity of the transgression involved. As the Chofetz Chaim explains, there are, for example, observant Jews who have a permissive attitude towards certain bad character traits because they consider avoidance of such traits “recommended behavior” and fail to realize that many negative traits (such as the desire for revenge) are prohibited by the Torah. The Chofetz Chaim tells us not to consider these people reshaim (evil people); rather, they are good people who are in need of reproof.
chanoch adds: Do you know the various methods of reproof? It is important to initially do this reproof in private and may be more effective to have someone else do the reproof. Someone the person respects.
The human mind is a complex machine. At times we may face a serious problem or issue, but our mind does not read it as such and accords it a lower priority than it deserves. This, says the Chofetz Chaim, is often the case with certain forms of negative behavior, where the person simply does not view the matter as a serious sin. But such a person can often be helped. If we approach him respectfully and graphically portray the seriousness of the matter, it is quite possible that he will accept our reproof and change for the better.
On the other hand, the Chofetz Chaim informs us that we should point out this person’s negative behavior to our children or students and caution them not to learn from his misguided ways. As we have already stated, this is not loshon hora because our intention is not to denigrate the person; we are merely concerned that others may emulate his behavior. However, it is absolutely essential to explain to the children why this is not loshon hora. Otherwise, they may erroneously draw the conclusion that loshon hora can be spoken in other situations.
chanoch adds: Who is a child is generally clear. Who is a student may not be clear. Do not use this aspect to speak negatively about someone to which you have had an incident. Or some other inclination of your unconscious.
At times the Torah allows negative information to be related, but only under very specific conditions. Just as the Torah demands of us not to speak loshon hora unnecessarily, so too, does it demand that we not mislead those who need to know the information. They must know that loshon hora is forbidden and that only in this particular case is it permitted to relate negative information.
chanoch adds: This means one must know the Halacha of Loshon Harah.
We can compare loshon hora to toxic waste and the laws of shmiras haloshon – guarding the speech to a protective suit worn by people who must handle these wastes. When a responsible person knows that he must deal with dangerous substances he prepares himself properly so that the substance will not cause him — or others — any harm.
SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Laws of Loshon Hora 4:11
One of the beautiful aspects of shmiras haloshon is that it demonstrates how Torah is all encompassing. While the Torah prohibits most forms of negative speech, it provides for the release of necessary information without causing unnecessary damage.
In situations such as a prospective shidduch (marriage match), job possibility or business relationship, the Chofetz Chaim says it is perfectly correct to inquire about someone in order to prevent future harm or dispute.
As we study this topic, we will find 7 requirements that need to be fulfilled before we can request or supply negative information for a constructive purpose. The first is that we must convey clearly the purpose of our inquiry before seeking information. If we do not tell the person that our inquiry is l’toeles, for a constructive purpose, then we place him in a situation where he will transgress the laws against loshon hora by providing the information. By not informing him of a constructive need for the information, we have caused him to sin by speaking loshon hora, and thus we transgress the commandment “You shall not place a stumbling block before the blind” (Vayikra 19:14).
chanoch adds: I was asked today what does someone say when asked about someone and they are not sure if this is for a constructive purpose? Below we will learn what the 7 rules are all about. Until then it is best to say to someone I am not sure of the information while thinking but not saying that you are not sure if the request is for a constructive purpose.
The person who provides the information must do it solely for the constructive purpose of helping to protect us from future harm. He is not permitted to speak if his true purpose is to degrade the subject of the inquiry. If he does have this in mind, then he is guilty of speaking loshon hora.
The second condition which the Chofetz Chaim lists here is that the person providing the information must be exceedingly careful not to exaggerate. Unfortunately, human nature often causes people to exaggerate in order to sound convincing, and this can cause enormous damage.
The Chofetz Chaim alludes to a case where a person exaggerated someone’s negative points when asked for information concerning a shidduch. On that basis, the inquiring party chose not to pursue it any further. As in most cases of loshon hora, the speaker has committed a sin between man and Hashem and also between man and his fellow. He must engage in teshuvah (repentance ) othan both accounts, and must seek the forgiveness of the subject of his evil words.
chanoch adds: Do you understand why loshon harah is a sin between yourself and HaShem? In the specific case of a Shidduchim that is not pursued. The speaker of Loshon Harah may have interrupted a marriage of cosmic soul mates since the family members usually object to this kind of Shidduch until it consumates.
As mentioned, there are five additional conditions that must be met which allow a person to release negative information for a constructive purpose. These will be discussed later.
chanoch adds: Do you remember the first two? One must know that the inquiry about this person is for specifically constructive purpose and then the person must be careful to not exaggerate.
SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Laws of Loshon Hora 4:12
One of the greatest gifts Hashem has given the Jewish People is the ability to cleanse ourselves of our sins through teshuvah (repentance). This gift is especially precious when one has been guilty of speaking loshon hora.
We have learned that when we speak loshon hora, we cause untold damage to ourselves, to our listeners and to the subject(s) of our words. The Chofetz Chaim has chronicled in detail the many sins which can be transgressed through loshon hora. Yet regardless of how grievously we have sinned, Hashem extends to us the gift of teshuvah, enabling us to repair the damage, at least to some degree.
The Chofetz Chaim discusses the parameters of teshuvah as it applies to loshon hora. If one has spoken loshon hora but his listeners did not believe what was said, then the sin is one between man and Hashem. Teshuvah in such a case requires that the person regret his sin, confess it before Hashem, and accept upon himself never to repeat it.
If, on the other hand, the loshon hora was accepted as fact and it resulted in harm, then more is required. For example:
A person lost an opportunity for a promotion because someone provided unnecessary or inaccurate, negative information about him. This constitutes real damage, both monetary and emotional. In this case, the three-part teshuvah outlined above would not be sufficient. One would also have to approach the victim and ask forgiveness for having spoken against him and caused him harm.
Certainly, this is a very difficult thing to do, especially if the victim had been unaware that he was being considered for a promotion. Nevertheless, the Chofetz Chaim informs us that neither Yom Kippur, nor death itself, can erase a sin between man and his fellow man unless sincere forgiveness is sought and it is granted.
(The legendary founder of the Mussar Movement, Rav Yisrael Salanter, found difficulty with the above law. From a Mussar perspective, he suggested that if by telling a person that we spoke loshon hora about him we will cause additional pain and distress, then perhaps it is better not to inform him.)
The Chofetz Chaim sees this as one of the major pitfalls of speaking loshon hora. Often, people forget about whom they have spoken, or are unaware of the damage their words have caused. In such cases, warns the Chofetz Chaim, they will never have the opportunity to achieve complete teshuvah.
The Chofetz Chaim further cautions that we should be exceedingly careful not to malign entire families. This kind of loshon hora can create a bad reputation for the family which can last for generations and cause untold hardship.
The Chofetz Chaim once suggested the following for a person who wanted to repent for having spoken loshon hora, but could not remember about whom he had spoken: Such a person should become involved in spreading the teaching of shmiras haloshon. In this way, he will atone, to some degree, for the harm which his own words have caused.
chanoch adds: Remember there is always a consequence to saying Loshon Harah and one can not always do Teshuvah or give Tzedakah sufficient to cleanse all of the pain and suffering one has caused.
SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Laws of Loshon Hora 5:1
In this segment, the Chofetz Chaim focuses on the mitzvah to extend loans to a fellow Jew. As the Torah states:” … When you lend money to My people …” (Shemos 22:24).
Consider the following situation:
You have a friend who is in need of a loan. He approaches someone you know and asks to borrow some money, but the prospective lender refuses, with the explanation that he cannot afford to extend a loan at this time. However, you happen to know the lender and you know for a fact that he does have the means to extend the loan. You assume that the real reason for his refusal is that he happens to be selfish.
Telling others of the person’s refusal to extend the loan is loshon hora. This is so even in a case where you witnessed the wrongdoing and even if your purpose in telling others is to protest the injustice done.
If the prospective borrower, in a desire to “get even,” tells others what happened, then he transgresses the negative commandments against taking revenge and bearing a grudge (Vayikra 19:18).
chanoch adds: When one realizes that HaShem provides for everyone one will realize that the reason the person did not make the loan is not because they are stingy or another reason. It is because HaShem has decried that the person not receive the money for his project do to some blockage he has created through his own spiritual mistakes.
The case of a loan request which was refused is used by the Chofetz Chaim as an example of loshon hora involving a person’s faults bein adam l’chaveiro, between man and his fellow. Similarly, it is forbidden to mention that someone is lacking in any of the interpersonal obligations which the Torah places upon us.
Even if a person were to repeatedly transgress one of these mitzvohs — for example, he never extends loans despite the fact that he is fabulously wealthy — it is forbidden to speak of it. As the Chofetz Chaim explains, we cannot categorize such a person as a rasha (wicked individual) because, unfortunately, many people mistakenly think of such obligations as being voluntary. Thus, they do not see themselves as sinners at all.
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