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.

Sefer Chofetz Chaim Chapter 4, halacha 11,footnote 2 part 3

The reason why it is so important to be open, and honest about why you are inquiring about someone else, whether it is a shidduch, partnership in business, hiring an employee, etc. is because if you don’t it is very to lead the person you are asking into speaking lashon hara, placing a stumbling block in front of the blind. If he doesn’t know your purpose in questioning him, he might say things which don’t need to be said, you might prove him too much and he’ll divulge unnecessary information, or if you are trying to use subterfuge you might start asking about other people so that he won’t figure out who you really want information about which leads to a tremendous amount of lashon hara about a lot of people. Therefore the right thing to do so that you won’t be tempted to ask too many details about the person you are inquiring about and so that the one answering the questions will understand fully why he is answering and will know what is appropriate to say and not to say, is to tell him exactly what the reason you are asking him about someone. You can tell him to keep the inquiry a secret but you can’t tell him answer my questions truthfully you won’t be doing anything wrong because I need some info for my own benefit and I won’t share this info with anyone else, for as long as you don’t tell him exactly why you need the info it will inevitably lead to unneeded lashon hara.

In a similar vein, if someone inquiries about his son or relative who lives in another city, he has to inform the person he’s talking to that he’s just asking for his family member’s best interest, for example how’s his learning coming along, is he still in Kollel, how’s his ruchniyus, etc. those questions can only be asked with the caveat that if there is a problem you would like to and have the means and enough concern to try to fix it. Therefore you have to tell the person you’re asking that you just want to help your son or relative. Something applies to Kiruv professionals inquiring about those they want to be mikarev, bring closer to Judaism.

Lastly if one moves someplace else and one day sees someone from his old town he is not allowed to ask him how this guy is doing and that guy and ask about details of people lives. Though it is tempting and part of human psychology to want to feel connected to those you haven’t seen in a while, giving away too many details about others is still lashon hara, therefore you shouldn’t probe and expect detailed answers about you long lost friends and neighbors since there is no usefulness into the inquiry.

Sefer Chofetz Chaim Chapter 4 halacha 11 part 2

If you don’t tell the person you are questioning that it’s for a shidduch, business partner, hiring a new employee, etc., for your own wellbeing then asking him question is transgressing “placing a stumbling block in front of the blind” because if he answers any questions negatively it is obviously with the intent of speaking lashon hara and he gets a sin even if he is helpful to the inquisitor.

The source for this concept that one is liable for a sin even if he didn’t actually commit it but they had intent to commit a sin is based on a Gemara in Nazir 23a which says that if a person was trying to eat pork chops and he wound up eating kosher lamb chops he still needs an atonement because his intent was to sin.

More severely, the Gemara in Bava Metzia 58b list 3 types of people that go down to Gehinom and never come back up, one of them is a person that calls another person a derogatory nickname even if the guy got used to being called that and is not embarrassed anymore, still he doesn’t come up from gehinom because his intent is to embarrass the guy. So to this person answering questions even if he winds up helping the questioner, if he is not told that the questions are being asked for one’s own good then he is obviously answering just to speak lashon hara so even if it is helpful, his intent is bad and he will be punished for speaking lashon hara therefore in order to not put him into that position you must inform him that you are just asking for helpful advice.

Sefer Chofetz Chaim Chapter 4, Halacha 11 part 1

Today we touched on a very touchy but extremely important topic. Halacha  allows and even expects people to take background checks of there employees, business partners, spouses before getting married and the like before they get involved in a relationship like those. This is permissible because you are doing it for your own good will, in order not to get hurt, or to wind up in major arguments and fights which will lead to a chillul Hashem. This is not lashon hara because your intent is not to denigrate  anyone and you are not placing a stumbling block in front of the blind, lifnei iver, by trying to dig up dirt about a person and asking questions which might get negative answers because this is all for the sake of your own well being. However you are forbidden to decisively believe what you hear, just act with caution and the person talking cannot exaggerate and can tell you only things which are needed for your well-being in this potential situation. For that reason also you cannot consult an enemy or even a competitor of the person you would partner with, hire, etc.because he will for sure lie or at least exaggerate since he hates him or is in competition with him or her. Even if he says he is telling the truth and is only warning you for your own good not because he hates him, you still cannot believe the guy because deep down inside he has negative feeling towards him so you must dismiss what he says if you accidentally hear something from him and certainly try to stay away.

The source of this halacha is based in a gemara in Shevuos daf 39b which discusses a person who entrusted money with another and the entrusted claimed he lost his money but the owner of the money claims he stole it, forcing the entrusted to make an oath. The gemara says they are both punished for what transpired. Rashi there says that the owner should have looked into the person before entrusting him with his own money. The Chofetz Chaim explains that they are both punished because if the entrusted swore falsely that’s a grave sin and if the entrusted was telling the truth the own forced him to make an oath for no reason, either way it resulted in a chillul Hashem which could have been avoided potentially if the owner would have just done the proper research before entrusting his money to this man.

Sefer Chofetz Chaim, Chapter 4, Halacha 10

A parent or teacher, who the children or student trusts are allowed to tel them to stay away from certain people who have bad character traits like haughtiness, anger management problems etc. so that they will not learn from their ways. This does not constitute lashon hara and is even a mitzva to do because just as we learn later on that one can tell someone about a suspected plot to try to cause them to lose money or to get hurt and now they can take precautions to stay safe all the more so to keep your children or students away from someone who can spiritually, psychologically, or physically hurt them, because of his character flaws is certainly a mitzvah to talk and take the proper precautions. One does not even have to abide by the five rules before speaking lashon hara, meaning that even if he just heard second hand he can still tell them as long as he explicitly says it in a way letting them know he just heard it second hand and he should be very clear about why he is telling it to them so that they won’t get mix messages about speaking lashon hara. Also it is permissible to exaggerate a little bit, or to embellish the severity of what he or she is doing wrong just to be sure your children or students will heed to what you are saying. But that does not mean you should lose hope on this bad guy because  he can always repent and might not know the severity of his ill character. However proper precautions to stay away from him should be taken and shared with those who would trust what you are saying like your children and students, anyone else you cannot talk to and it will most likely be lashon hara since they won’t necessarily trust what you are saying and do something about it. Lashon hara is to scoff and make fun of others for your own gain or there loss but when spoken to protect others from any sort of harm, not only is it permissible but it’s a mitzvah to be spoken.

Sefer Chofetz Chaim Chapter 4 halacha 9

There are two reason why you can’t speak lashon hara about someone who has bad character traits, whether it is anger, haughtiness, etc. (1) Either because he might have felt bad and repented after he expressed his bad character like acting out of anger or (2) even if he clearly doesn’t regret the way he act and you see him act in the negative way all the time it’s possible he doesn’t realize the severity of the problem. There are so many complex variables who, when what, where of how to deal with ones feelings that they are very hard to control, also people who are even Torah observant don’t realize how important it is to constantly be working on our character therefore there is no excuse to speak Lisbon hara about a person who you see with character flaws. Even when the Gemara in Tania 7a says one is allowed to call a person who is brazen and chutzpadik, a bad person, that is only for that bad trait but even then you can’t be so quick to judge who has chutzpah and can be called bad because you have to first fully understand the problem of having chutzpah and delineate whether that person has enough chutzpah if any to be called a bad person. There is one other gray area, a trait which really isn’t bad but other people might take it negatively or might start to talk badly of the guy based on what you said. For example being strict is not a bad attribute, we find that Beis Shammai was stricter for the sake of the honor of Torah than Beis Hillel was. That does not mean they were wrong they just had a different outlook in life of how to act. See also Rav Yisrael Salanter’s letter 28 in Ohr Yisrael about this concept. So to call a person strict is not lashon hara unless stated in a negative context. However one should be careful who they speak to when they say someone is strict because it might be placing a stumbling block before the blind for someone might say, ‘you know him now but I remember him when he had terrible anger management problems’ so depending on who you talk to what you say might lead to lashon hara so you have to be careful, just like you have to be careful in front of whine you praise others because the listeners might start talking lashon hara about who you praise. It’s never good to overly praise someone because it will prompt others to find faults on that person.