Sefer Chofetz Chaim conclusion of footnotes for chapter 6 halacha 5 finishing footnote 14 and 15 Conclusion of footnote 14

Continuing with what we have been discussing, off the topic of lashon hara, this time talking about gazing at women especially when they are immodest. The gemara in Bava Basra 57b says that one gaze at women as they are laundering their clothes in the river. And the gemara says if you could have taken a different route to where you want to go then you are wicked and the Rashbam adds that even if you were closing your eyes as you walked down the riverbank you are still wicked. The Chofetz Chaim asks why are they called wicked, how is it any different than walking by a place of idol worship where we poskined that if you aren’t planning on going there, just passing by to get to where you want to go, even if you could go some other way and you have no intent of benefiting from any sounds smells, or beautiful sights coming outvif the idolatrous place of worship then it’s permissible to pass by even if automatically you might get some pleasure which you are uninterested in getting. Even according to the Chochmas Adam quoted last week who says one should close his eyes, or at least squint, or close his ears, and or stuff is nostrils a bit so he cannot smell, then if he does that and walk by he is not considered wicked so why does the Rashbam consider him wicked in this case? The Chofetz Chaim answers that when it comes to stairing at women especially when dressed inappropriately one has to take extra precautions not to come to gaze at them because the yetzer hara, evil inclination is extra sneaky and strong to get you to sin. Tge lost for women is much stronger than any other lust, even if you say to yourself that you aren’t affected by it but the yetzer hara has his way of ensnaring any man and getting him to fall into a sinful trap. Therefore, extra precautions must be taken and if not then you are considered evil.

The Chofetz Chaim lends support to this concept from a gemara in Brachos 61a that says it’s better to walk behind a lion thatn in back of a woman and if you meet one on the road then quickly walk past her and move to the side. (Granted derech eretz kadma liTorah, and one must use proper manners to at least acknowledge any person, even a lady on the street with a greeting but then quickly walk past her and don’t linger, lest you might look upon her and begin to have inappropriate thoughts.)

There is a story about the Chofetz Chaim, in his late 90s a couple of years before he passed away he was in an inn overnight on his travels and at breakfast the waitress who was attending him and his accompaniment was wearing a shirt which was a above her elbows. When she left, he turned to his secretary and asked him if she thought he was an angel. He meant that even though he was at the ripe old age of upper 90s and he was a very righteous person, besides the fact it was only her elbows showing, still in all he was greatly concerned that maybe his evil inclinations will over power him and he’ll sin at least in his thoughts, so he wondered if she thought he was an angel who could not be effected by physical desires.

Footnote 15: Back to the laws of lashon hara, if a person cannot walk away from someone speaking lashon hara, neither can he rebuke him and it’s embarrassing to put his fingers into his ears then besides not believing a word spoken, and having no intent if enjoying what he is hearing, he should also sit there as a stone or as the Rabbeinu Yona says even should a look of disgust and if you don’t stay still as a stone then you are helping him commit the sin by somewhat giving credence and considered flattering a sinner which us a grave sin which makes one undeserving of having the Shechina, Hashem’s Holy Presence focus on him.

Sefer Chofetz Chaim chapter 6 note on the footnote 14 on halacha 5

The Chofetz Chaim went on a complete tangent off of lashon hara, to discuss in more detail the concept of unintentionally doing a prohibition in cases where you seemingly have no choice in the matter. He focuses on idolatry. Specifically the prohibition of benefiting from seeing idols or even there temples and services as well as listening to music sung or played at there services and the sweet smells that come from  those services. The Chochmas Adam seems to say that if a person does not close his eyes or his ears or his nostrils when passing by a place of idol worship, even if he has no intent of benefiting and this was let say the only way to get to work, it is still prohibited to go that way if you don’t close your eyes, nose, and/or ears because there is an automatic guarantee that he will be doing something wrong.

 The Chofetz Chaim disagreed on his premise that a person walking that way will automatically do something wrong because since he can potentially close his eyes, or at least squint so he can see where he is going without easily seeing what’saroind him, or stop up his nostrils to the point he can still breathe but cannot smell well, or put his finger in his ear is enough to get rid of the automatic wrongdoing notion. Though he does actively walk to the area of problem but his walking doesn’t combine with the passive sense of smelling, seeing or hearing if he does not want to benefit from it and had no intention of wanting to benefit from it, since the potential to avoid the forbidden thing is there, that makes it not automatic. However the Chofetz Chaim did say that let say the music is blasting so loud, or the smell is overwhelmingly sweetly pungent or it is right in front of you and you cannot avoid it by even potentially putting you fingers in your ears or squinting, or stopping up your nose with cotton or the like, then it is automatic and forbidden.    Also if a person didn’t have any hands or finger so had no way of potentially using them then the prohibition is also automatic so it would be a problem. In summary if you can potentially avoid something wrong even if you don’t but you truly don’t want to get any benefit from the wrong thing and you have no intention to enjoy it, even if it just automatically comes your way it is still not a prohibition though it is always best to avoid and go around it if possible.

Sefer ChofetzChaim Chapter 6, halacha 5, footnote 14

We began footnote 14 today. It is very long and might last us 3 weeks, but very important. It deals with the second condition of what you must do if you cannot  just walk away from a group speaking lashon hara, neither can you rebuke them or for whatever reason you can’t put your fingers in your ears. Condition #1 was that you cannot believe one iota of what is being said, once you start you automatically transgress the sin of listening to lashon hara. Condition #2 was that you have to feel totally out of place or disgusted by what you are listening to. The footnote says this is based on a gemara in Pesachim 25b which deals with the issue of whether it is permissible to get benefit from a forbidden thing if you can’t escape it and you have no intention of benefiting, for example if you start smelling sweet incense sacrificed to an idol. In that case everyone agrees if you cannot escape the smell and you have no intention of smelling it, you have not committed a sin. If you could escape it but you had no intent of smelling it there is an argument between Rebbe Yehuda and Rebbe Shimon if unintentional benefit is permitted and the Rosh as well as the Rif poskin it is. But if you could not escape and you decided since I can’t do anything about it I might as well enjoy it then that’s a sin and certainly if you could get away and still intend to enjoy it it is a sin. The Ra”n adds that this doesn’t only apply to smelling and idolatry but to any of the senses which you are forced to do like hearing or seeing and it also applies to any sin. Therefore in our case when one sat down in a group let say to eat, at a wedding for example, and there was no intent to listen or speak loshon hara, and he cannot just walk away then he is not committing any sin. Even though we also posking that if a sin is guaranteed to happen, a psik reisha, even if it is unintentional he still transgresses on a Torah level, so if he doesn’t stick his fingers in his ears then listening will automatically happen, that is only an issue if one is actively doing something which will automatically lead to a sin but just listening is passive and he has no intent of listening and he cannot escape so there is no sin on his part. Even if you want to combine his action of walking to the group with his listening, since walking to the group didn’t guarantee he would be listening to lashon hara, then that isn’t considered a psik reisha.

Sefer Chofetz Chaim Chapter 6 halacha 3,4

Halacha 3: Don’t think that because there is a Torah level prohibition to just listen to lashon hara then you are stuck and can’t keep your ears open to avoid problems that might come your way. Rather you are allowed to listen to lashon hara if it could be used constructively for yourself in the future or if you can fix a matter for someone else or change the person being talked about and the like. What one should do is if you see someone coming over to you tell you something you must ask him, “is it constructive for me or can I help to resolve an issue?” If he replies yes then fine you can listen but don’t accept what he says as truth until you look into the matter yourself but if he sounds like he’s speaking out of hatred and is about to just go all out degrading someone then you should tell him you don’t want to listen or at least give him a disparaging look. This is essential in order so that he won’t come over to you again with more lashon hara and he might even stop speaking altogether because of the shame you caused him.

Halacha 4: There are times when it’s a mitzvah to listen to lashon hara which is when you figure out yourself that you think by listening fully to what he says you can convince him and others listening that he is wrong and defend the person being spoken about by judging the person being talked about favorably. If you feel the speaker will just twist whatever positive words you have and make things worse then you should stay quiet until he walks away and then defend the one being talked about in front of the listeners. Even if you started to listen unlawfully there is a way to fix your sin of “lo sisa shema shav” and retroactively it’s as if you never sinned by judging him favorably and defending him so that people will believe you and not the one who spoke the lashon hara. And if you can convince the one speaking that he is wrong you Also fixed your sin of placing a stumbling block in front of the blind. If you can break up a fight it’s a mitzvah to listen to lashon hara just as the Gemara in Avoda Zara 18b says it’s forbidden to go into non-Jewish entertainment centers like movie theaters but if you can save a wayward Jews from these places then you are permitted to go in there and get him out, for example there are many stories of rabbis going into movie theaters or bars to save teenagers from these immoral places and the like. Also, if a person feels he has to vent to someone after someone did something nasty to him, or the like, then a person should listen to the venting if he will be sure not to believe what is being said and it will calm down the person who got riled up so hope no argument will ensue. It is a mitzva to listen so that hopefully he won’t speak to anyone else who might accept what he says and you creating peace amongst the Jews and the world. For this reason, you can even ask the guy venting why he dislikes his friend so that maybe you can fix the matter.

Sefer Chofetz Chaim chapter 6, halacha 2, footnote 2 continued and footnotes 3, 4

Footnote 2 continued: The Chofetz Chaim proved from a gemara in Shevuos daf 31a combined with the Rambam (hilchos Sanhedrin 21:7) that even listening to lashon hara is forbidden since it might lead to accepting it as truth. So it’s logical to say that if the Torah definitely forbade accepting lashon hara then it also forbade what would lead to it which is just listening. The Gemara in Shavuos and the Rambam were talking about judges listening to statements by one party before the court case officially starts. If that’s a problem because they might accept the first aide as fact even if he will eventually hear the other side of the story, all the more so in any other situation of just listening where many times the person talked about doesn’t defend himself therefore it’s for sure forbidden because it is easier to accept what you hear. The Pirkei Di’Rebbe Eliezer warns that just sitting among those who speak lashon hara, no mention of accepting what you hear, you are considered wicked and one who hangs around slanderers, that means just by listening. Finally, the Sefer Chareidim says straight out in the negative mitzvah that have to do with one’s ears that just listening to lashon hara is prohibited by the Torah. You can’t get any clearer than that but the Chofetz Chaim says he must know this because of all that was quoted earlier.

Footnote 3: When a person is allowed to listen to lashon hara for a constructive purpose like to avoid future feuds then you have to have two things in mind:

 1. If the person is speaking out of hatred you can’t listen to him because he won’t be careful the prerequisites of permissibly speaking lashon hara for a constructive purpose listed later on.

2. You can listen in only if he had already started to speak with others so that you aren’t the one placing a stumbling block in front of the blind.

Footnote 4: When it says that if you are in a position to help someone correct his ways then you can listen to lashon hara in order to investigate if it is really true or not that is only if there is an inkling of possible truth to the matter but if you feel there is no way the guy you are listening to is telling the truth you have no obligation to be cautious about what you heard to rebuke the would be wrong doer.

Sefer Chofetz Chaim chapter 6, halacha two, footnote 2: Part 1

Today we began a very important lesson in learning . Many times we see things through the lenses of the final product, obviously something is forbidden and it makes logical sense but how did the rabbis figure that out and what are the exact details of how it came about? By getting into the details of the origin of the halacha with the back and forth of whether it is a problem or not then we can better appreciate the severity of the halacha and make it ingrained inside us.

 In our specific case the Chofetz Chaim, in footnote 2 of his Be’er Mayim Chaim goes into much detail discussing and questioning how we know that just listening to lashon hara, even if you don’t accept it is still a Torah level prohibition. The Chofetz Chaim began with a gemara in Kesubos 5a quoting and explaining a verse in Devarim 23:14 that you should stick your fingers in your ears when you hear bad speech. The Chofetz Chaim says that is not necessarily a proof that the Torah holds you can’t even listen to lashon hara, maybe that is just an, asmachta, a hint in the Torah and the Rabbis said you can’t listen and must stick your fingers in your ear, proof is that there is another Gemara in Pesachim 25b which says that if you are stuck amongst a group of people who are speaking lashon hara and cannot leave but dislike what they are saying that is good enough. But if the Torah says you should stick your fingers in your ears it should have said that? It must be it’s only advice if the rabbis hinted to in the Torah. But you shouldn’t come to the conclusion that the Torah permits you to just listen to lashon hara, for there could be a difference between needing to stick your fingers in your ears and searching out juicy slander to listen to. The fact that many places like the Rambam and Rabbeinu Yona use a term that you cannot accept lashon hara does not mean that it is permitted to listen because all they mean is to be inclusive of times when you really are permitted to listen to lashon hara for the sake of avoiding physical or monetary damage to yourself or helping others from getting hurt, which though you can listen and be cautious to what you hear but the Torah says you cannot accept what you here as absolute truth until you look into the matter yourself.

Next week we’ll continue with this footnote to see if there really is a Torah level source that you are not allowed to even lean an ear to just listen to lashon hara.

Sefer Chofetz Chaim Chapter 6 halacha 1 with footnote & halacha 2 without footnote

We started the sixth chapter which deals with the recipient of lashon hara. Though both are forbidden on a Torah level yet there is a difference between accepting lashon hara and listening to lashon hara. 

Halacha 1 deals with accepting lashon hara which is defined as decisively deciding in one’s heart that what you heard is true which is a problem because now the one being talked about is disgraceful in your eyes even if you don’t show any response to what you heard. If you show a response to what you heard is two times worse than just accepting in your heart, either way the mechilta learns that one who accepts lashon hara as truth is worse than the one saying it and deserves to be thrown to the dogs. The Chofetz Chaim does caution in his footnote (1) that though it is forbidden to accept lashon hara as truth but one shouldn’t decide the speaker is a liar. Rather he should take the middle ground and be indecisive and if he has to, for his own or others benefits he can do research into the matter and decide on his own whether it really is true or not. 

Halacha 2 says that one is forbidden to have an ear out to listen to lashon hara even if he doesn’t accept what is being said. However one is aloud to keep his ears open if what he’s listening to will help him or someone else in some way. For example if one tells him about a potential shidduch or partnership he can listen and do research to see if it is really true what the person said. This is permitted because it can avoid much hardship and strife in the future. Also if you think you are influential enough then you can listen to someone talk about someone else who did something wrong if you think you can go over to the wrongdoer and help him change his ways. Otherwise listening just to hear juicy info about others is strictly forbidden by the Torah. 

Sefer Chofetz Chaim chapter 5, halachos 7, 8

Today we concluded the fifth chapter of Sefer Chofetz Chaim.

Halacha 7 discusses how not only you cannot speak lashon hara about your fellow Jew but also about his objects. For example two business competitors cannot speak negative about their competitor’s products. This stems from jealousy and is a Torah level prohibition of lashon hara.

Halacha 8 teaches us that not only speaking loshon hara by yourself even if it is true is prohibited, but all the more so, two or more people speaking lasho hara about someone else is forbidden because the second person is giving credence to the first and the people listening will more likely believe what is said which cause a bigger disgrace to the one being talked about.

The Chofetz Chaim elaborates on this point in his Be’er Mayim Chaim (11) below and makes a very important point of what exactly is lashon hara. He says, not only is it lashon hara if two people are speaking at the same time but if one person speaks after the other, even though the first one already did the damage it is still lashon hara for the second one because lashon hara is speaking negatively about your fellow Jew, as we see by Miriam to Aharon who spoke lashon hara about Moshe, though it was only in private, she loved Moshe, only meant well, and Moshe wasn’t insulted one iota, still in all she got tzaraas because she spoke negatively about her fellow Jew. The insult, and damage that is caused is only a biproduct of lashon hara that just makes it worse.

Sefer Chofetz Chaim chapter 5, halachos 5 and 6

Today we learned about the subtleties of speech. A statement can be taken two ways so you have to be very careful with not only what you say but how you say it or about whom you are talking about, time, place, etc. You should be so quick to say I am just trying to help the guy if it might harm him or her. The important rule of thumb that he quotes from the Rambam is that whatever you say that might harm a person physically, monetarily, or cause undo pain and suffering psychologically, or make him terrified of others is lashon hara.

We first discussed that if you call a person weak it might harm him if he is a construction worker, for example, by trait then who will hire him, or if he is weak minded and is a teacher who will hire him? If he is called weak minded maybe people will think he can’t handle a classroom. That is clearly lashon hara. On the other hand if your intent in calling someone weak or not strong is to tell people he is not controlling or over powering then it is not lashon hara, therefore you have to way all the possibilities and ramifications before opening your mouth to speak.

Similarly if you tell people that so and so is not wealthy then it could e really bad because people might not want to work with him or give him alone but on the other hand they might help him and give him tzedakah, so again one has to be careful what he says and t whom he says it to, and how it comes across.

Furthermore, the same statement can be taken two different ways depending on who you talk about. If you say about a guy who is learning in Kollel and being supported by his in-laws that he only learns 3-4 hours a day that is lashon hara. But if you talk about a hard-working entrepreneur who is trying to support a family on his own that he learn Torah 3-4 hours a day that a tremendous praise.

Similarly if you say tell people how a lower income person gives a dollar to anyone who goes over to him and asks for money that is a praise but to say that a millionaire gives a dollar to each person that asks for money, only a dollar, constitutes lashon hara.

One last interesting point the Chofetz Chaim makes is that when the Torah says “Love your neighbor as yourself” and Chazal say “Don’t do something to others which you would hate to be done to you” that does not give you the excuse to say “What’s wrong with saying this guy only learns 3 or 4 hours a day, if people would be saying that about me I would be quite happy!”  That is not what Chaza”l meant, rather you have to view yourself in the other guy’s shoes, and if you were him, you would not want that to be done or said about yourself.

SeferChofetz Chaim chapter 5 halacha 4

Today learned the severity of lowering the respect of someone in the eyes of others. If a person is looked at as an upstanding individual in his community with good character and a Torah scholar then one can’t tell the community leaders that where this individual use to live back in the day he was not of such stature. This might belittle the individual in the eyes of the community or even cause him to lose his job.

If it is a rav of a congregation even if it is true that he is not as big of a scholar then what people think he is, it is still a lack f respect to the Torah and this Rav’s own dignity to belittle him in the eyes of his congregants. It might cost him his job and the standard of Torah observance might be lowered. He is at least trying to help people observe Torah and any really difficult questions he hopefully sends to other Rabbis who might have answers.

Also many times people don’t like hearing rebuke and will decide not to like rabbis or yeshiva students who try to help them go on the proper Torah path so they will unfortunately spread rumors about them in the next place they live. This is based on a gemara in Kesubos 105b. The episode in the Gemara Bava Kama 117a where Rebbe Yochanan calls Rav Kahana a fox after Reish Lakish told Rebbe Yochanan that the lion came back from Bavel and Rav Kahana did not understand Rebbe Yochanan’s shiur as well. Calling him Rav Kahana a fox in front of Reish Lakish did not constitute lashon hara because everyone saw he was not able to answer Rebbe Yochanan’s questions and was sent back from the first row to the last row of the shiur, so by calling him a fox instead of a lion he did not lose any respect which was not lost beforehand. Rebbe Yochanan was also teaching a lesson to stay in Israel because the air of Israel makes you smarter and able to learn learn better then outside of Israel.

This is also true for a newlywed who just got married and is learning in Kollel. To say he is not as serious of a learner then he looks like will eventually get back to his in-laws and they won’t respect him as much and it will trickle down to his wife and kids eventually.

The same thing is true about any professional, to say he is not as much of an expert then people think can cause him to lose his livelihood. Even if he is a novice, he must start somewhere, and he will learn and get better on the job so if people think he can do a good job let him do it.

When you do know there can be a serious problem, for example a community is looking to hire a rabbi, or elect and official and you know if they do so it will be a big mistake, then divulging information in order to avoid potential problems will be discussed at length in Hilchos Rechilus chapter 9, b’ezras Hashem.