This week we wrapped up Tosfos’ view of Apei Tlasa. Outright slander is forbidden to be said or accepted by the listeners even in front of 3 people. Only a statement that could be taken in two ways, as long as one would not be embarrassed to say it in the face of the one he is talking about, assuming he does not show any negative connotations, is permissible to be said in front of the person he is talking about and even in front of three people since word will get back to whom he was talking about and he has no shame saying it since there is nothing wrong with what he is intending to say. The people who heard this statement which could be taken in two ways but was said positively can now spread it to others.
What comes out from the ramifications of this Halacha is that this statement that can be taken for good or for bad cannot be said in front of one or two people even though your intent is positive. To get around that problem one should just say a statement that can’t be taken two ways. For example, if someone asks you where he can get some food don’t tell him so and so always has a pot on the stove which can mean either he’s a glutton or he always have guests, rather say so and so always has guests over. That you can say even in front of one or two people assuming you know the person asking won’t take advantage of his host and the host really doesn’t mind having guests all the time.
We then started discussing the Rambam’s view on apei tlasa in note 3. He understood the Gemara in Bava Basra who permits speaking in front of three because word spreads as follows: the initial person who speaks slander is in fact committing a sin but since it was said in front of three people and word spreads on that fashion then if one of the three repeated what he said as long as he didn’t repeat with the intentions to spread it further he does not get a sin since the damage has already been caused. If he does say it with intent to spread the slander then he is also sinning since he is trying to further the damage to the one spoken about.
The answer to Tosfos’ view on apei tlasa is that straight out negative lashon hara is forbidden to be said whether in front of 3 or more people or even to the antagonist’s straight up lashon hara is forbidden, also to listen and accept as true. However the leniency is in a case where the statement could be taken in two ways, positive or negative. The key to the leniency is if you don’t feel embarrassed at all to be willing to say it to his face then you may say it to him or her or even in front of 3 people since it will definitely get back to the person being talked about. However if you feel any embarrassment to say it or if your expressions, voice, physical, etc is of a negative connotation it should not be said.
Today we finished the first note of the Be’er Mayim Chaim in Chapter 2 of Sefer Chofetz Chaim. The Chofetz Chaim makes it very clear that there is no reason what so ever to allow out right lashon hara to be spoken even if it is in front of three people and it will spread to the one being talked about. It actually could be worse. Only if there is some benefit like in a court case the litigant can tell the judges how he was wronged or a messenger of the court can even tell the judges he was disrespected when on the mission of the court to bring someone in. Otherwise it is absolutely forbidden!
In Halacha 2 the Chofetz Chaim begins to explain where the concept of “apei tlasa” does apply. Which is when a pareve statement is made that can be taken one of two ways. As long as you connotation and body language does not indicate negativity then one can say this statement in front of at least 3 people because it will spread and get back to the one being talked about so obviously if he said is he is saying it in a positive light because he wouldn’t want the subject to know what he is saying if it was negative. This type of state is in the category of “avak lashon hara”. The example the Chofetz Chaim gives of such a statement is if a person asked a group of people where can I find some good around here and one of them respond there is always a fire brewing down the street at this guy’s house where they always have fish and meat. This can be taken in a positive light to mean he has a big family and is well to do so they can afford, with G-D’s help lavish food, or it can mean they are always ready to serve guests. But it can also be taken negatively that the guy is a glutton and a fresser. So as long as the one who says the statement doesn’t sound negative and sarcastic then he can say it in a group because we can assume he is just trying to be helpful and positive.
This chapter talks about the concept of “apei tilasa” which literally means “in front of 3” this refers to an ambiguous leniency in the laws of lashon hara. It is based on a Gemara in Bava Basra 39a, in the name of Rabba bar Rav Huna who says that anything said in front of 3 people is not considered lashon hara. The Chofetz Chaim makes it very clear that the bigger the crown the worse the lashon hara is. He proves it through logic and sources in the Sifri and other gemaras.
The Chofetz Chaim spends a lot of time elaborating on explaining what the Gemara in Bava Basra is talking about, going through all the Rishonim in order so that no one will be mistakenly think that it is straight out permissible to talk lashon hara in front of 3 people with no strings attached.
He starts with the Rashbam who says that it is certainly prohibited to say anything bad about anyone in front of 3 but once it was said any one of the 3 can repeat it to the one it was talked about because since it was said in front of 3 it is definite that it will get back to him anyway. I had a question why it would be permitted to tell the guy talked about since we learned that reinforcing what he already know is still bad like rubbing salt on an open wound?
Tosfos on 39b sounds like he is saying that even the one speaking the lashon hara is permitted in front of at least 3 because since word spreads n that dynamic it is like he said it to his face. The Chofetz Chaim had a lot of difficulty understanding what this means since you certainly can’t lie, that is motzie Shem ra, and even the truth, if said to his face is forbidden and a person who causes a public embarrassment has no share in the World to Come! Just calling him names has the same issue and even if we say if a guy is insulted he is allowed to insult back, so if he hears what the speaker said and told 3 people a response so they can now report it back to the speaker. That also doesn’t work because one can only respond to being insulted in public and to the guys face at the moment of insult and this is after the fact even if his response is considered to the insulter’s face, it is still lashon hara because the timing is off. So we are left with not understanding what Tosfos is saying and when exactly does the leniency of apei tlasa apply, to be continued…
The last Halacha in
this chapter talks about not saying lashon hara about others even if you
include yourself in what negative thing happened, and even if you were really
talking negatively about yourself but you compare yourself to others either
saying you are like them or even saying you are worse but they still are bad,
that is still lashon hara about them and forbidden to say. Hashem was able to
forgive what the prophet Yeshaya said about himself but not the fact that he
demeaned the rest of the nation in the process, even though he had no intent of
demeaning them. (See Yeshayahu 6:5, 6 with Rashi there.) For example one
shouldn’t tell his friends or parents I failed my test but others did too and
others got Ds while the smartest ones aced it. You can say I failed and I don’t
know how the others did or just stay quiet about the others if anyone asks how
the test went.
Halacha 7: We have an obligation not only to sacrifice our money but all the more so, our self pride for the sake of not sinning especially this grave sin of lashon hara. Even if you are sitting in a crowd and can’t just walk away and if you don’t speak up in the conversation you’ll be laughed at or made fun of, or even worse people will start characterizing you and fellow Torah observant Jews as out casts, still in all one cannot join in on speaking lashon hara.
Halacha 8: Lashon Hara is an issue whether spoken, written, or even hinted to like by pointing or winking with a clear indication that you are trying to send a bad message about someone else or making fun, even just handing someone a sloppy letter that someone else wrote is still forbidden. However we learned that if something bad is known about someone and was heard in front of at least 3 people then repeating it is permissible as long as it does not make things worse. Also if you are trying to teach a lesson and saying it won’t make things worse it could also be permissible and we will elaborate more on the exceptions in chapter ten.
Halacha 5: Not only is one not allowed to speak lashon hara voluntarily but even if someone is trying to coerce another to speak slanderously about someone else, it doesn’t matter if it is your parents, rabbi, or even the king you cannot tell them any lashon hara about someone else unless it is for a constructive purpose and all the parameters mentioned later on are met. Lashon hara is like any other mitzva, Torah or rabbinic which one cannot listen to parents or even a rabbi if they say to transgress and must even stop them from transgressing if one sees any of them doing a sin.
Halacha 6: If it means one has to lose money, whether losing a chance of a promotion or even a demotion or even losing one’s job, and even if it means the means of one’s livelihood and supporting a family is in danger one still must not speak lashon hara and be ready to look like a fool in the eyes of one’s boss and fellow employees. Lashon hara is like any other mitzva that one must be ready to sacrifice all his money and not transgress, whether on a Torah level or rabbinic.
Chapter 1 Halacha 4:
When the Rabbis say lashon hara is worse than the big 3, idolatry, adultery,
and murder, and not only is one punished in this world, one has no share in the
World to Come, they are referring to someone who habitually speaks lashon hara,
a baal lashon hara. This person might have known lashon hara is a sin but now
he doesn’t even realize he is doing anything wrong because he speaks it so
often. This is worse than the big 3 because, for example, if one is sentenced
to death for murder and before he is executed he admits he did wrong and
repents then he gains his share in the World to Come but this person who is
constantly speaking lashon hara and not even thinking about the ramifications
of what he is doing or saying is essentially rebelling against Hashem without
any remorse. The fact that he doesn’t think he is doing anything wrong and has
no intention of admitting his guilt and repenting make it worse that the big 3.
Chapter 1 end of
halacha 1 – 3
End of halacha 1: There is a discussion amongst the
Rishonim whether lashon hara and rechilus are all part of one verse of לא תלך רכיל בעמיך or is rechilus (tattletale) is worse than
lashon hara (slander) and lashon hara is learned from לא
תשא שמה שוא and although we should not need a verse for rechilus because we
can learn it out from a Kal vachomer (fortiori) from lashon hara however the
Torah goes out of its way to have a separate verse for rechilus in order so
that the court can give lashes to one who falsely slanders someone else.
Another ramification of the extra verse “Don’t walk as a tale bearer amongst
your people” is that the prohibition starts even before one actually speaks
lashon hara rather when he is walking to do the sin it starts.
Halacha 2: A reminder that other prohibitions like revenge,hating
someone in one’s heart etc. can be transgressed while speaking lashon
Halacha 3: A person who habitually speaks lashon hara is in a whole new
realm called a “baal lashon hara” he or she goes around collecting info about
people and then sits around with a crowd talking slander every day. This type
of person is viewed as someone who spites Hashem and his Torah because he
doesn’t just sin every once in a while but premeditatedly sins every day by
creating groups of shmuzzers to speak loshon hara and rechilus.
Today we started delving into the actual laws of loshon hara.
Chapter 1, halacha 1:
(A) Lashon hara
is slander about a fellow Jew even if it is the absolute truth. The Chofetz
Chaim elaborates in his Be’er Mayim Chaim on 3 gemaras that prove lashon hara
is even on truth.
(1) Moed Katan 16a:
The gemara there proves from the report that Moshe Rabbeinu’s messenger sent
back of Dasan and Aviram that only a messenger of the court is allowed to speak
slander which is true to the judges because there is some benefit for the
court, implying in general a person cannot speak slander even if it is true.
42a: There are Four types
of people who the Shechina will not go near, two of them are habitual liars and
those who habitually speak lashon hara. If lashon hara is only when one falsely
slanders another then it would be the same category as liars and we would not
need both categories therefore it must be that speaking lashon hara is even a
problem when speaking the truth.
(3) Bava Basra 164b:
Rebbe’s son brought a document which had a mistake on it. Rebbe wasn’t so
happy, Rebbe’s son, Rebbe Shimon said Rebbe Yehuda the… wrote it. Rebbe
scolded his son for telling him who wrote, he should have just said I did not
write it. We see from this case that even though Rebbe Shimon was just telling
truth it was still lashon hara and forbidden. Instead he should of stayed quiet
or just give a deflecting response like “I didn’t do it.” Because there was no
benefit to anyone for being an informant.
Another example I gave
was if a grocery store has some old, not so fresh food with bad expiration
dates. You can’t tell someone don’t shop there because of a number of reasons:
A. Maybe he wants other stuff, B. maybe he doesn’t care but if you say
something you just make things worse. C. If it’s a known thing you are just
stoking the coals. D. He can figure out himself if he wants to shop there or
Lastly we discussed
that even a change of one word from the truth could change what you say from
lashon hara to what’s called motzie shem ra which is worse than lashon hara
because the lie you say about someone could make them look even worse and
amplifies the sin of slander. If a mixture of truth and lies can switch lashon
hara into motzie shem ra certainly a complete lie is in that category and all
the more severe!