There is a very strange dichotomy on how to approach lashon hara if heard and could be useful. The Chofetz Chaim says though it’s forbidden to accept lashon hara according to the Torah it is permitted or even obligatory to be cautious for what you heard in order to protect yourself or others from possible harm but at the same time you also must believe in your heart that this person is no different than any other Jew and has a chezkas kashrus, he an upstanding good Jew even though someone said something bad about him. This has major ramifications in halacha for example, if someone says that he saw someone eating non-kosher out of spite, meaning he had two steaks in front of him, for example, one kosher and one non-kosher and he put aside the kosher and ate the non-kosher one that shows he doesn’t care about Hashem’s mitzvos as opposed to someone who’s a glutton and just likes non-kosher food because it tastes good. Now if there were two witnesses that testified in court that this person sinned to spite Hashem not just because he liked eating non-kosher food and the court makes a decision and declared that this is Jew is outside of “your nation” then though he is a Jew still but there are certain laws that don’t pertain to him, for example if he lost an object you found you don’t have to return it to him, if he asks for tzedaka you don’t have to give him, or even if he is captured you do have to redeem him. But this status only applies if it was declared in court, but if you just hear someone tell this story and it was never taken to court then the person must still be treated as a normal Jew all halacha applying to him. This is true even if he is known to be on the fringe and was known to do other songs but not bad enough to be out of ” your nation” you still can’t believe the story and treat him differently though you could take note of any concerns and take precautions if you think this person can harm you or others.
The rule of thumb is anything which constitutes speaking lashon hara is also the sin of accepting lashon hara. There is no difference whether you are listening to someone talk about someone else’s misdeeds, or his family’s misdeeds whether it’s past or present or just name calling either way there is a prohibition of speaking and accepting lashon hara. However it is possible that a person who is listening to “lashon hara” will get a sin but the speaker won’t. This is in the situation where the speaker should speak up to try to help a situation but the listener is forbidden to decisively accept what he hears as truth until he does his own research and finds out himself, he just has to be concerned of the problem mentioned.
The Yad HaKetana (hilchos Deos 9:8) says that even if a person says something negative which is the truth it is still called a lie and a waste. Why is it a lie if it’s true? He says if there is no basis or purpose to what is said then granted it’s a waste but it’s even a lie since there is no purpose or even a negative purpose to say it. The Chofetz Chaim has another reason of why a true negative statement is a lie which is the effect of what you say could be a lie because if for example you speak negatively about someone’s family or what he did in the past but he’s a good guy and did teshuva now so Hashem loves him and he has a clean slate therefore it’s a lie to make people think otherwise.
This halacha discusses the importance of judging favorably instead of accepting lashon hara especially towards the rabbis or those who are righteous and G-D fearing. The extent one should go to judge favorably a sage, rabbi or Jewish court is expressed in the example the note gave.
If a person storms out of Jewish court guilty as charged and goes over to his friend to tell him what happened and in the process of proving his innocence he lashes out at the court claiming they don’t know how to poskin and saying quite a bit of nasty words about them. Even though it sounds like he has a very good case of innocence the person listening still should try to calm down the guilty party and surely not accept anything that he says, for several reasons.
1. It is known, based on a Shach in hilchos Shechita, that baal habatim think differently than Torah sages. So, what they perceive to be logically true might not be what the Torah mandates in halacha.
2. The court can only judge what is presented in front of them and it is possible that a fact which is added, I now might not have been mentioned in litigation so the court poskined based on what they heard and there should not be any claims against them.
3. Even if the case was wrong there is a gemara in Brachos 7b that says there are times where it is decreed in Heaven that someone should lose a court case for whatever reason or maybe the other litigant has a better mazel as the Rosh says elsewhere. But the gemara in Sanhedrin 8a guarantees if there is a misjudgment the guilty party or loser will get the value of his loss somehow at some point.
4. If you see you can’t convince the guilty party to calm down at least you can’t believe what you hear and at the very least you should go over to the rabbis and question them what happened for either they will tell you their reasoning, share with you the sources from where they came up with their psak, or maybe they will realize they were wrong and they will change their psak, which in that case you fulfilled the mitzah of rebuking properly, as the Rambam (hilchos De’os 6:6) says that it’s better to fight out the issue in halacha then to bear ill will against them in your heart.
At the very least one has an obligation to look into the matter before deciding they are wrong and the more one judges others favorably Hashem judges them favorably
The Chofetz Chaim says that there is a prohibition of
accepting lashon hara not only if what the person is saying might be a lie, but
even if what he is saying you know is true and the person saying it is giving a
negative twist to it, if the listener does not judge the situation favorably
when he is supposed to, not only does he transgress judging a fellow Jew
favorably which some poskin say is a mitzvah in the Torah, “bitzedek
tishpot amisecha” but he also received the prohibition of accepting lashon
hara just because he did not judge the situation favorably. One of the examples
I made up was what if you saw a hunter shoot a child in the forest and someone
else ran over to you who saw the same thing and said this hunter should be
caught and executed for this horrible act of viciously gunning down an innocent
child. This is obviously lashon hara, but you yourself saw it happen however
you have to judge the situation. What’s the child doing in a forest where
people hunt? Did the hunter aim for the child or was he aiming for a deer, etc.
etc.? You can’t come to conclusions so quickly and accept that the shooter is
malicious, you have to judge favorably until all the circumstances are clear.
The Chofetz Chaim brought 3 proofs that not judging favorably and accepting lashon hara even if true is a sin:
A. Clearly the person who spoke the lashon hara sinned, therefore so to the one who accepted it.
B. Yeravam ben Navat was rewarded kingship over the ten tribes of Israel for not accepting true lashon hara from the prophet Amos of someone in Israel stabbing him, and he accepted that even if it is true it is a prophecy from G-d. So because he judged the prophecy positively though it was negative and against him he was rewarded to become king even though he became a very evil king.
C. King Shaul actually accepted the lashon hara from Doeg that Achimelech helped David, which Achimelech admitted to but Shaul believed Doeg and killed many people for helping David because King Shaul thought David was rebelling against his rulership and wanted to dethrone him in his lifetime. Doeg was called someone who always speaks lashon hara because of this and King Shaul was branded someone who accepts lashon hara, even though it was true that Achimelech helped David but he didn’t judge him favorably that it was intent to help someone make a rebellion against his kingship.
Today was admittedly very difficult. The Chofetz Chaim in footnote 17 was trying just to be honest and not make people think that we have to go to the extreme and say something is forbidden on a Torah level when it really isn’t. The case we are dealing with is when one is too lazy to get up and leave, granted he is disgusted with the lashon hara he hears and has no intent to accept it as truth so he does not transgress the Torah prohibition of accepting lashon hara but he was just too lazy to get up and leave though he had a chance so he gets a rabbinic prohibition of not actively staying far away from lashon hara. The Chofetz Chaim asks why he doesn’t get a Torah prohibition just like a married woman who was kidnapped and was given the chance to leave but doesn’t so if her capturers have relations with her she is now forbidden to her husband because she showed willingness by not leaving when she had a chance whereas beforehand when she would have been permitted to her husband because anything the captors would have done would assumed. To have. even forced against her will. Furthermore we see by Esther in the Purim story that she only became forbidden to her husband, Mordechai, only after she invited Achashverosh to her party and he had relations with her that night, for until then she was just completely passive letting Achashveirosh do whatever he wanted and not having any delight in what he did, but when she invited him to the party, even though her intent was only to save the Jewish people but she now showed willingness to be with him. Why is the person who could have gotten up but didn’t only out of laziness and therefore privy to lashon hara any different then these women and the red fore also get a Torah prohibition for not leaving? The answer is that he is still different because we know his intent is not to have any benefit from the lashon hara and no rebuke could have stopped them from speaking the lashon hara and on the contrary he was disgusted at what he heard, so on a Torah level he did nothing wrong it is just that the Rabbis said you should put your finger in your ears or walk away and he was to embarrassed and lazy to do that so he only has a rabbinic prohibition. But these women must acquiesce at some degree to being to their kidnappers because why else would they be forbidden to their husbands just because they were too easy to go home? And with Esther, though she was just doing it to save the Jews but because she initiated the party know what would happen that night it shows some level of willingness which forbade her to Mordechai. Whereas the one who sat down to eat did not realize any lashon hara would be spoken so he isn’t as bad though he still should have gotten up when he had the chance.
Note 18 said that though the gemara in Kesubos says you should put your fingers in your ear which will make it hard to hear and might stop them from speaking because they see you do something abnormal which will tip them off to stop but nowadays people think you look like. A fool and ridiculously funny and will just make fun if you so it is better to just walk away.
We are back in action, slowly plugging away in Sefer Chofetz Chaim. Today we learned that the only excuse to stay still and not walk away from a conversation of lashon hara is if when you got there you did not think they would be speaking lashon hara and they were, and also if there is no way of escape.
A. When you came you can already over hear them speaking lashon hara,
B. You are just too lazy to get up or
C. You know that the nature of this group of people is to speak lashon hara and make fun of others then you can’t even sit down with them and should certainly overcome any laziness even if you disagree with what you are hearing and get up and leave. If you don’t you are included with them as wicked people who involve themselves in lashon hara.
The footnote to note 16 in the Be’er Mayim Chaim points out that there are two problems in scenario A. and C. One is a rabbinic prohibition to stay away from hearing lashon hara, even if you are disgusted in what you hear and don’t accept it. It’s one thing to be passive and just not get up when you find yourself in a conversation of lashon hara and can’t get up, rebuke, or put your fingers in your ears but actively sitting down when you hear lashon hara being spoken where you are supposed to be going to or if you know these people always slander others, they love doing so then the rabbis forbid you to actively but yourself into that situation from the onset. You also transgress the positive mitzvah of clinging to Hashem by wantonly deciding to cling to this group of lashon hara speakers when actively sitting down with them. As for the second scenario of not getting up out of laziness when you could then you only transgress the rabbinic prohibition, not the positive mitzvah of “bo sidbak” clinging to Hashem since when you first came you did not think it would lead to lashon hara.
But the Chofetz Chaim points out through a couple of
gemaras that ignoring the rabbis and their enactments is a grave sin. |
We gleaned a few insights from our discussion today:
1. We see that we have to keep our ears open when coming to sit down in a group to be sure they aren’t speaking lashon hara. That might mean, for example at a wedding upon sitting down at your table if you hear lashon hara you would have to walk away, maybe act as if you have to get something or speak to someone before sitting down, then come back when you think they have stopped speaking lashon hara.
2. Another insight we realized that though putting your finger in your ears might be embarrassing but now a days we find people walking around with headphones, barring whether that is derech eretz/proper manners or not, but if you do it and you begin to hear lashon hara then you can turn on the music or Torah lecture, etc. so you cannot hear it and that is the same way without it being embarrassing as putting your fingers in your ears, perhaps even more effective.
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.
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.
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.
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.