In terms of a sage who is G-d fearing one certainly
cannot divulge to anyone an obvious sin that you saw him do or even think ill
of him because without a doubt he realized he did something wrong, had deep
bitter remorse and has repented. The Sefer Yad Hakatana goes so far as to say
that you cannot even rebuke him which the Chofetz Chaim qualifies that’s only
could be true on the day after but there still is a mitzvah even for a student
to rebuke his Rebbe respectfully at the time he sees him do something wrong.
Also if it was a sin of monetary matters one can rebuke a G-d fearing sage
until he gives back the money. However the Chofetz Chaim doesn’t understand why
the Yad HaKetana says there is no mitzvah to rebuke because granted we have to
judge him favorably but we wouldn’t say he is able to testify as a witness if
he would have committed a sin wish would invalidate him from testifying until
the judges know for sure that he repented, assuming isn’t enough when it comes
to testimony and it assuming should just remove a positive mitzvah of rebuke.
The Chofetz Chaim in his note at the end of halacha 4
says that up until now we are dealing with transgressions that if told to
anyone had no ramifications in this day and age. However in a case of a woman
who committed adultery one must tell the husband because the husband is
forbidden to stay married to her. However you only have a right to tell the
husband if you saw the act firsthand not by hearsay. Also you can only tell him
if he will believe you like two witnesses and separate himself from his wife.
You can’t even tell him who the adulterer is because there is no point in
telling the husband, therefore it is lashon hara unless divulging the name will
convince him to separate from his wife. Other than that, if the husband won’t
listen to you or anyone else then you can’t even tell the court of what you saw
because they can’t do anything about it if the husband won’t believe anyone.
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.)