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 hara.
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.
(2) Sotah 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 not.
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!
This week we concluded the prologue of Sefer Chofetz Chaim it concludes with 3 (really 4) curses in the Torah associated with lashon hara which an be found in the Torah portion of Ki Savo.
1. ארור מכה ראהו בסתר One is cursed for hitting his friend in a hidden place which the Sifri and Rashi on Chumash say refers to speaking lashon hara for he doesn’t physically strike his friend on his body but his speech effects the other’s emotions or heart.
2. ארור משגה עור בדרך This curse is for giving people bad advice on purpose for one’s own benefit but it is also a curse for leading others to sin like in this case where the speaker of loshon hara is causing the listener to potentially sin if they want to listen and the listeners cause the speaker to sin by encouraging him to speak loshon hara through showing they want to hear what he has to say.
3. ארור אשר לא יקים את דברי התורה הזאת לעשות אותם Hashem curses those who don’t take his mitzvos seriously and don’t accept upon themselves to make at least some effort to adhere to them. Even if he doesn’t care about one mitzva and habitually transgresses it even if he observes everything else he is what’s called a mumar for one thing. The issue is a lack of care to try to guard oneself from the sin not the transgression itself because it shows a lack of care to follow Hashem’s command.
4. ארור מקלה אביו ואמו If one speaks lashon hara about his parents there is an addition curse.One of the ramifications of being cursed is being excommunicated in Heaven which is pretty scary.
In conclusion The Chofetz Chaim said that this prologue should be reviewed over and over again because it might be the best deterrent out of anything else he writes, from speaking lashon hara.