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.

Sefer Chofetz Chaim chapter 5 halacha 3

Name calling is worse than other forms of lashon hara like telling others about sins a person did. For example, calling someone stupid. People will listen to the name caller it seems to be human nature. But when a person talks about the actions someone else did the people listening make up excuses for what they heard or don’t believe that is really what happened even if it is true, but maybe it was taken out of context.

The Chofetz Chaim does say there is one instance where name calling is allowed and even a mitzvah! When two people are in a fight over what someone said or did to the other and you go over to the one it was done to and say, ‘He wasn’t acting malicious he is just stupid.’ If that will ease the tension and dissipate the fight, then it’s a tremendous mitzvah!

Sefer Chofetz Chaim perek 5 halacha 2

The Chofetz Chaim reemphasizes very strongly how severe of a problem it is to speak badly about someone whether it is true or not true. To put down someone in front of others because he has a character flaw, whether he is not smart or strong or wealthy or any other flaw, even if it is true, if there is no positive gain in telling other’s about it constitutes lashon hara on a Torah level because since by speaking in this way you are hurting someone in some fashion, be it monetarily, physically, or emotionally by embarrassing him, making him depressed or even scaring him. For example if you say this person isn’t so rich then people might not be willing to invest with him or partner in a business with him. If you say someone is nit strong people might take advantage of him or bully him etc. etc. 

The Chofetz Chaim says the worst insult one can give a person is to say he is not smart. To call a Rabbi, Rav, Rebbe, or Posek not smart is incredibly bad because not only might he lose his job and you are ruining him and his family if he is ran out if town, but you are degrading the honor of Torah because people won’t listen to him if he is trying to correct others who are not observing the Torah correctly since people will say why should we listen to him, he does not know what he is talking about. What will result is in people not observing the Torah correctly.

Sefer Chofetz Chaim chapter 5 halacha 1

Today we started the fifth chapter of the laws of lashon hara which discusses speaking lashon hara about a person who transgressed a mitzvah between man and his fellow man. The Chofetz Chaim says that it is still forbidden to speak lashon hara about him even if it is completely true, certainly if there is some falsehood in the story. However this is so if there won’t be any harm to others, but if he becomes a possible threat then we’ll discuss in more detail in chapter 10 when and how it is permissible to speak out against this person. For now we are discussing circumstances where you witnessed a person not doing a favor for another, for example not lending a loan when requested, not giving tzedaka, acting with a grudge or revenge etc., where there is no threat of harm to anyone, in these circumstances you cannot tell anyone what you saw. Even if you see that this person never is nice, is apparently bad in nature and has a lack of fear in Hashem so does not care to fulfill these particular mitzvos, still in all the Chofetz Chaim concluded one cannot speak out against him though in other proactive cases where everyone knows   the transgression is wrong and still this person sins out of spite, it is permissible to speak lashon hara about this type of person since he takes himself out of the realm of “your nation” but in this case, either because you can only be excluded from “you nation” if you actively sin but in this case you are passive by not lending or giving tzedaka, or because we don’t really know what makes a person turn sour, mabe one time he leant money and wasn’t paid back so now he never leands money tough he is able to, this does not mean he is doing the right thing but you still cannot speak lashon hara about him. And if he did not do the favor to you then you will be committing at least two sins of bearing a grudge or even revenge along with speaking lashon hara by slandering him and spreading a bad name about him in public.

Sefer Chofetz Chaim last part of chapter 4 halacha 12

The advice of the Chofetz Chaim is just not to speak lashon hara because if a person regularly speaks lashon hara then it is pretty much impossible to remember everyone you spoke badly about to apologize to them, and those that you do specifically remember you might be too embarrassed to tell them you spoke lashon hara about them if they don’t know you did, and then apologize. Even worse if a person speaks lashon hara about a family it might affect generations and then it literally is impossible to apologize to everyone. We already learned that Hashem won’t accept our apology to him if we don’t first apologize to the people we accosted, therefore the best thing to do is just not speak lashon harato begin with.

This answers the question he had on the Gemara Erechin 15b which seems to say that a person who habitually speaks lashon hara can never fix his wrong. Though everyone knows that Hashem allows anyone to repent even a person who decides to not believe in Hashem has the ability to regret his decision and do complete teshuva which Hashem will completely accept. A person who speaks loshon hara can’t be worse that one who denies Hashem’s existence?!

However the answer is of course anyone can repent to Hashem, feel remorse for what they did, admit, and decide to try never to do it again, and Hashem will accept the repentance with open arms, but when also sinning against one’s fellow man and not being able to apologize to everyone then Hashem can’t fully accept your apology to him and your repentance cannot be complete. In this way, in fact speaking lashon hara is worse than denying Hashem! That is why it is best not to speak it!!!

Sefer Chofetz Chaim Chapter 4 halacha 12

If one did speak lashon hara but no one accepted what you said so it didn’t harm anyone then you must repent to Hashem for transgressing a sin. (A) regret what you said, (B) admit your wrongdoing I.e vidui, (C) accept upon yourself altruistically to never do it again. However if they did accept what you said and it caused harm, physically, monetarily, or even psychologically then the speaker must first go over to the person he spoke about and apologize to him, and only then can he repent to Hashem. Neither Yom Kippur or death is sufficient atonement if you did not apologize to the person accosted if you are supposed to. There is an argument between the Chofetz Chaim and Rav Yisrael Salanter whether you must apologize to someone who does not know you spoke lashon hara about him. The Chofetz Chaim says you have to tell him that you wronged him and you apologize but Rav Yisrael Salanter says that might make him feel worse now knowing what happened and you shouldn’t make a person feel bad even if you apologize afterwards, therefore it is better to say nothing then to make things worse. The Chofetz Chaim in the Be’er Mayim Chaim (48) says something very scary that it is possible that Lashon hara might not immediately harm someone and a person will repent to Hashem and wipe out his sin but if later on harm does come to the one spoken about the sin resurfaces and the speaker must apologize to the one harmed. Best thing to do if already spoke is to try to avoid hard being done like going back to who he spoke to and convincing them that what he said was inappropriate and should not be accepted as truth at all. Then there would be nothing to apologize for.