Today we started the 4th chapter of Sefer Chofetz Chaim which discusses speaking lashon hara about deeds a person or his family did of prohibition between man and Hashem, for example breaking Shabbos or not eating kosher. This means one cannot speak out someone or about that person's family that they use to not keep kosher or the like even if they have totally changed there ways and everyone knows that, and even if it is behind his back because if he would be there it is very likely he would be embarrassed if it was brought up.
It would seem though, that if he was there and he himself brought up the subject about his past, talking about old times and the mistakes he made or just recollecting about good times with his friend at the movies or parties for instance, then it would be permissible for others to continue the conversation and reminisce assuming it won’t damage his reputation or him physically or monetarily and that the person continuing the conversation doesn’t have intent to denigrate him.
The Chofetz Chaim brought an illustration about how just the fact a person would be embarrassed is reason not to mention his past misdeeds even if it won’t harm him in any way, from a Gemara in Bava Metzia 59a where King David said that anyone who mentions his sin that he did with Batsheva (which was not as severe as it looked, he did complete repentance, and everyone accepted him as king at that time) would still be worse than the sin itself because if anyone would cut him no blood would be spilled, I.e. he is so embarrassed over what happened. All the more so if it will monetarily, or physically harm someone, for example he won’t be able to find a job because of what you said, or even just to scare him is not permissible.
If done with malicious intent the Rabbeinu Yona says in Shaarei Teshuva 214 that these type of people the Shechina, Divine Presence, does not rest among them.
The Chofetz Chaim also illustrates how by just not watching what you say one can create severe ramifications. There is a Gemara in Shabbos 33b which relates that Yehuda Ben Geirim was privy to a conversation the judges in the Sanhedrin about Rome. Rebbe Yehuda was praising Rome for all the useful roads, bridges, bathhouses etc. that were made which could be used by the Jews to serve Hashem better. Rebbe Shimon ben Yochai said they did it all for there own pleasure and sinful ways. Yehuda Ben Geirim went back home and in innocent conversation discussed what he heard in the Sanhedrin that day. Somehow word got out to the Roman government of what Rebbe Shimon Ben Yochai said which had grave results.
However the Chofetz Chaim did say that one can confide in a righteous person who is known to be modest and private that you can trust won’t say anything else to anyone and know he will not come to judgement about that person being talked about and he is not trying to insult the guy, then you can tell that rabbi about someone, for example who is not eating kosher, or keeping Shabbos appropriately, for maybe he will be able to help him fix his ways. Another application of one you can trust would be a psychologist or the like who is paid to listen to problems and to keep his mouth shut.
We concluded the unit on judging your fellow Jew favorably. The Chofetz Chaim said that even though it is very proper and good character to judge one favorably in cases when it would seem more unfavorable, however technically according to halacha one does not have to judge favorably in this circumstance. But if one does judge others favorably even in these circumstances, at least treating it as a doubt them Hashem will reciprocate and judge you favorably.
Two cases in the Gemara where they did not judge favorably but the reason being is because halachically you don’t need to and these were extenuating circumstances which was not worth going beyond the letter of the law:
1. Bava Metzia 75b: There is a halacha that one should not lend money without witnesses lest the would be borrower would deny he borrowed money and people will curse the lender for giving a bad name to the would be borrower for no reason. This was a real issue to the point that Ravina would not lend money to Rav Ashi without witnesses, lest he forgot he borrowed money, even though they were partners together in writing down the Gemara and they were the leading rabbis of their generation. Why didn’t people judge the lender favorably and not curse him if he claimed the borrower owes him money, maybe he is correct? It must be that halachically one can judge others unfavorably in situations like this where there should have been witnesses at the time of the loan.
2. Sanhedrin 26a: Rebbe Chiya bar Zarnuki and Rebbe Shimon ben Yehotzadak were on there way to the Sanhedrin to testify that there should be a leap year that year. That year happened to be a shmita (sabbatical) year and they saw people in the field plowing and assumed they were hired to plow in a non-Jewish owned field. They then saw people tending to a vineyard and assumed they were fixing fences not working on the actual crop. Reish Lakish saw these two rabbis did not reprimand either of these people and thought they should not be allowed to testify because they don’t care about the laws of shmita so they did not reprimand those people in the fields. He even told Rebbe Yochanan not to accept them as witnesses. Why didn’t Reish Lakish judge them favorably, especially since they were such great sages, Amoraim! It must be that he had no obligation to, and because these farmers looked like they were doing something wrong, and transgressing shmita is so severe than Reish Lakish felt he should not go beyond the letter of the law but rather according to strict judgment and assume there was a problem.
3. On the other hand we see the opposite illustration in Shabbos 127b where a worker judged his employer favorably when the worker asked for his salary right before Yom Kippur and the employer said he had no money, land, possessions or even food that he can send back home with him. The employer then came to him after Sukkos, paid him plus gave him a bonus and asked his employee what he was thinking. When the employee gave excuses, judging his employer favorably with some far fetched excuses, the employer said all that is pretty much true and just as you judged me favorably so should Hashem judge you favorably.
This week we discussed a very important concept about what triggers a person to speak lashon hara most times. That is not judging your fellow Jew favorably. There is a mitzvah to judge everyone favorably based on the verse, ״בצדק תשפוט עמיתך״ “you shall judge your nation with righteousness” (Vayikra 19:15).
The Chofetz Chaim discussed two levels of people: (1) one who is known to be a G-d fearing Jew, even if you heard or saw something which more likely looks inappropriate or against Halacha you still have a mitzvah to judge him favorably. (Parenthetically rebuking someone where there was an obvious wrong doing is clarifying with that person, not considered judging unfavorably.) In fact the main issue of why Miriam was punished with tzaraas for speaking ill against Moshe to Aharon, even though she was trying just to get to the heart of the truth and certainly not trying to denigrate Moshe in any way, she was only concerned with the fact that because Moshe divorced his wife there won’t be any chance of anymore little Moshe Rabbeinus populating the world, as the Sifri in B’haaloscha says, still in all, with all her positive intent, for her level she was punished because she should have judged Moshe favorably that separating from his wife was the appropriate thing to do under the circumstances of his level of closeness and interaction with Hashem as the leader of the Jews.
(2) People who are in the middle, meaning they are normally Torah observant but they some times slip up. These type of people, if you see them do something or say something which there is a 50/50 chance could be good or bad it is a mitzvah to judge them favorably. Certainly if it is most likely that he didn’t do or say anything wrong you must just him favorably. But even if it most likely looks like something wrong was said or done it is very much the correct thing to do to try to at least leave it in doubt and not speedily conclude he did something wrong. Even if it is pretty evident in your eyes that he is guilty of any wrongdoing that does not give a person the right to tell others about it. This is where the transgression of lashon hara comes in. Exceptions to the rule of keeping quiet are discussed in chapters 4,5, and 10 with all there parameters.
Bottom line one shouldn’t be quick to judgement when you hear or see something which seems to be a problem whether a sin between man and G-d and even a sin between man and his fellow man lest it will lead to lashon hara (unless all the parameters are met and you are supposed to talk.)
Today we concluded the
introduction to Sefer Chofetz Chaim with the last footnote there. After Sukkos
we’ll continue from where we previously left off in chapter 3.
Today the Chofetz Chaim
touched on a few issues like how everything he writes is based in halacha even
if he quotes the mussar sefer, Shaarei Teshuva by Rabbeinu Yona, But Rabbeinu
Yona was very precise to speak in terms of laws of lashon hara. The Chofetz
Chaim said he anyways brought multiple proofs for all he taught when he quotes
sources like Rabbeinu Yona when they rule stringently, though when Rabbeinu
Yona rules leniently he will quote him on his own.
The Chofetz Chaim then
said that he left no Halacha unturned and even if he wrote a leniency that
those who habituate in lashon hara might take advantage of, it is still worth
mentioning because Chazal in Bava Basra elaborate on the pasuk that “all of
Hashem’s ways are straight and the righteous should walk in them though the
wicked my stumble in them.” Meaning it is worthwhile to reveal something which
sounds questionable or a leniency on face value but all of G-d’s Torah is truth
and those that want to delve into it and observe it properly should have the
opportunity to do so even if the wicked might choose to take advantage of it
and warp it for their own evil ways.
The Chofetz Chaim then
went into much detail proving that the Chaz”al which says “It’s better to do
things by accident (unknowingly) then (to be taught the Halacha) and do it
purposefully (anyways). The Chofetz Chaim debunked applying this rule to the
laws of lashon hara because the rule doesn’t apply to mitzvos that are
explicitly stated in the Torah. Would you say don’t teach people the laws of
stealing since most people have issues with it anyway? Or don’t teach the laws
of Shabbos because they are too difficult to keep? Of course not! On the
contrary the Gemara in Erechin purposefully discusses various Halachos of
lashon hara and the Torah explicitly tells us we should constantly remember
what happened to Miriam in the desert when she spoke lashon hara against Moshe
so of course to truly realize the severity we also must learn all the laws that
pertain to it.
By learning the laws of
lashon hara in detail then even if we sometimes transgress at least we won’t
habitually speak it, we might even feel bad in those times when we do slip and
apologize to the person you spoke about if you know you made him feel bad and
at the very least make sure to try not to speak lashon hara again.
Quite simply today’s halacha plainly
states that it is forbidden to speak lashon hara even if no harm was done, and
even if you somehow knew no harm would be done.
Unlike other sins between man and
his fellow which are only a sin if it actually happened liked stealing,
overcharging or interest, lashon hara is a sin even if no harm what so ever is
done. The proof is the fact that the gemara in Erechin 16a says the coat the
Kohen Gadol wears in the Beis HaMikdash with the bells and pomegranates
is an atonement for the sin of lashon harm if no harm was done. If harm was
done then the person received tzaraas, (spiritual leprosy.) There would be
no need for an atonement if harmless lashon hara wasn’t a sin. It must be that
the very fact a person just speaks negatively about his fellow Jew to his own
benefit is enough to be a sin even if no harm is done, which Rabbeinu Yonah in
his Shaarei Teshuva also points out.
Furthermore we saw why Miriam was
punished with tzaraas even though Moshe didn’t take what she said to heart and
it didn’t cause any skirmish or hard feelings whatsoever when Miriram told
Aharon lashon hara that Moshe separated from his wife and the Torah said Aharon
responded to her words. Rechilus is deserving of tzaraas if it effectuated some
kind of skirmish to start, ill-feelings between two people. But lashon hara is
deserving of tzaraas even if the speaker caused the listener to start talking
about the situation, even if he doesm’t say something negative or tries to
defend the person spoken against but point is it made an impression. So because
Aharon started talking as the Torah say, after Miriam told him about Moshe, she
was therefore derving of tzaraas. Nothing else was said after that and that is
why Aharon never got tzaraas. Whatever he said had zero impact on anything.
Today we discussed that even in a
casual manner if you say something which at first glance might not seem
negative but your in trickery intent is to throw in a negative fact bout
someone, even if hinted to and said straight out, it is still forbidden.
I gave an example of two neighbors
schmoozing about a new family that moved into town and they were
discussing how it is a big family with 7 children and they seem to be a very
nice and polite family, simple, moving into a 3 bedroom house. One neighbor just
wonders how they can fit any guests but then says he is excited to meet
them and get to know them!
That line thrown in about guests was
a casual remark not meaning to be out right malicious but it might imply that
this family is not as hospitable then they outwardly seem. That is lashon hara.
Even to possibly just say they are a
simple family of 9 living in a 3 bedroom house would be at least avak lashon
hara (rabbinic, dust of lashon hara) because that will imply they aren’t
hospitable. Of course as we learned before the permissibility or forbiddance of
avak lashon hara depends on one’s tone and intent was it meant to be positive
or negative, and how did it come out.
Chapter 3, Halacha 3 spoke about the issue of joking around and making fun of others which is also a Torah level sin of lashon hara even if one’s intent is not malicious and one had no hatred in his heart towards the person he was talking about.
The Chofetz Chaim in footnote 2 says, and this happens to be mentioned in next week’s parsha of Ki Seitzei, that what Miriam said about Moshe to Aharon that he had divorced his wife in order to be in a constant state of purity in order to be ready to talk to Hashem at all times which implied he sacrificed the mitzvah of having children, was lashon hara which she was punished for though she had no intent in maligning her beloved brother. This is THE example to prove his point that lashon hara even occurs if one does not hate his fellow or mean to cause him any harm. By constantly reminding ourselves of this calamity by reviewing the verse in next week’s Torah portion in Ki Seitzei 24:9, “Remember what the Lord, your God, did to Miriam on the way, when you went out of Egypt,” then one will be on his way to being more attuned to controlling himself from speaking lashon hara.
Chapter 3, Halacha 4: The Chofetz Chaim next mentioned that even if one doesn’t mention the name he is talking about but it can be figured out by the listeners in context it is still forbidden to speak it. Even a hint of sorts, if one intent in his heart is to cause the listener to figure out what he’s talking about which in this way might cause monetary, physical or emotional damage or distress to the person he had in mind it s forbidden.
The Chofetz Chaim in footnote 3 gives a story pertaining to this halacha found in the gemara Yerushalmi in Peah 1:1. Where there were a group of Jews designated to work in the pits at a labor camp and on one of the work days a Jew by the name of Bar Chovetz ran away. The group started shmuzing in the work place and asked each other what should we have for lunch? One sly fellow, with malicious intent said aloud ‘Why don’t we have Chovtza?” Which was a type of a lentil. The taskmaster or boss over heard the conversation and something triggered in his mind and he asked, ‘Where is Bar Chovetz?” In which case, this Bar Chovetz got into trouble and Rebbe Yochanan called this lashon hara because the sly guy intentionally suggested eating a food which had a similar name to Bar Chovetz that triggered in the boss’s mind his name and got the guy in trouble. This is how far we apply lashon hara!
Today we concluded with reading a little bit more of the introduction to Sefer Chofetz Chaim which we try to do around a fast. He mentioned that one of the reasons Lashon Hara is so prevalent is because the sources for these laws are spread out all throughout Shas and poskim and that is why he felt he must put everything together into one sefer with such detail and elaboration. This will allow those misinformed or not knowledgeable in the matter to have it at there fingertips and those that do know the Halacha can easily review in order to combat the yetzer hara, evil inclinations pull and excuses to speak lashon hara.
With that being said we saw today in even greater detail the same thing we have been seeing the past couple weeks that speaking lashon hara even if true, when the guy is right there in front of you is still forbidden. When Rebbe Yossi in Erechin seems to say it’s permissible, Tosfos says is only a statement that doesn’t necessarily sound like lashon hara, meaning it can be understood two ways, positive or negative.
According to the Sefer Yereim and Rabbeinu Yonah Rebbe Yossi was talking in situations where spreading the lashon hara will be beneficial for the victims or others to stay away or be careful for example spreading news of a thief, or an extortionist, or one who verbally or physically hurts others. Or if a person is known to purposefully transgress a sin that everyone knows is a problem and he was warned and doesn’t care about it then one can speak about that issue with others, for example if he or she eats non -kosher food like pig or shell fish. If you are willing to spread the news with the suspect in the crowd (barring the issue that he might go after you next) that is an indication you are talking about it for the sake of the truth and the honor of Hashem or to protect others and help the victim. Otherwise, if one is only willing to talk about the issue behind his or her back that is indicative that the person making the statement or spreading the news is doing it for personal reasons making him or herself look good in front of others while putting down other people, which is absolutely forbidden.
Bottom line if it is not constructive don’t say it whether in front of the person or behind his or her back.
The Gemara in Eruchin 15b makes a very ambiguous statement. Rabba
says any statement that is said to the guy’s face is not lashon hara and Rabba proves
this from Rebbe Yossi who said “I never said anything and then had to look
behind my back.”
The Chofetz Chaim said that many people took this Gemara out of
context to mean that if you are willing to say something to the guy’s face
whether good or bad it is permissible. He proves this assumption wrong based on
many Rishonim including the Rambam, Tosfos, Smag and the Rabbeinu Yona.
First off, besides lashon hara if one is willing to embarrass a
guy to his face like being up a story of a baal teshuva in his early years or
even discuss what someone’s relatives use to do before they changed there way
for the good, that is also the prohibition of onaas devarim, making a person
Even if you saw a person do a sin between man and Hashem like breaking
Shabbos you can’t just hate him and publicize his sin to the world even if he
is right there in front of you. Rather you should take him aside and gently
Even if he was rebuked properly and he did it again where there is
now room in Halacha to hate him it is still not an easy matter to spread what
he did to others even if he is around as we saw in the case in Pesachim 113b of
Tuvia sinning and Zigud who saw this going to Rav Pappa’s court to testify what
happened and Rav Pappa gave Ziggud lashes for coming in as a single witness
which is lashon hara. Testimony needs at least a pair. The Chofetz Chaim does
mention that one is allowed to speak lashon hara of a group of unruly people to
warn others to stay away from them but that is not what the Gemara in Eruchin
is talking about.
Therefore as of now we have not come up with the exact case in
Eruchin but we will find out next week when we finish the footnote, b’ezras
Halacha 1: There are 3 levels of lashon hara all worse than the next.
A. Saying lashon hara
behind one’s back which not only do you get a sin of lashon hara but you also
get a curse for hurting someone in a hidden way.
B. Saying lashon hara
about someone in the crowd. So he is there but it is not to his face.
C. Saying lashon hara to
one’s face with a group around which not only do you have the sins of lashon
hara and ona’as devarim which is insulting someone to his or her face but you
are also acting in a very negative manner by using the terrible attribute of
audacity and chutzpah besides the fact that you embarrassed the guy which if
done without teshuva one has no share in the World to Come.
Halacha 2: There is a chaza”l that says if one is willing to say something
to the guy’s face then it must be permissible to say but that is only in
context of avak lashon hara, a statement that can be taken in two ways, good or
bad, depending on one’s connotations, voice, movements, who it’s being said to
etc. The fact that one is willing to say it to the guy’s face is usually a
litmus test that he is saying something positive because the nature of a person
is to avoid someone he is speaking bad about but that does not mean that if he
is willing to speak negatively about the guy to his face it is permissible. It
just means you are willing to stoop so low to go beyond human nature. For
example if you say “someone is big” then that can mean he is a big fat lazy
shlub or it can mean that he is big and strong and can help people lift things
or protect them. Depending on how one says it, does he look or sound nervous
when saying it confident. Or is he making gestures that look like he is making
fun of the guy. Is it in context of trying to help someone in need or is it
with a group of scoffer last that love making fun of people all these things
must be taken into account but if he is willing to say the guy is big when he
is right there it is most likely an indicator that it’s a positive statement.
The key is to think of what you are about to say and how you are going to say
it will cause more harm or will help.