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
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!!!
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If a person refuses
to listen to a Jewish court verdict to do a mitzvah or to stop doing a sin the
court has a right to publicize the matter and record it in official records for
future future generations to see as long as the court assess he is just making
up excuses of why he refuses to follow the verdict. But if the court is unsure
whether he has a plausible excuse or. It then they shouldn’t publicize his
refusal to listen to them.
Similarly we find in the Gemara Yoma 38a in the Mishna there, “And these are mentioned for censure: Those of the House of Garmu did not want to teach others the proper production of the Showbread. Those of the House of Avtinas did not want to teach others the proper means of production for the incense. Hugras , a Levite, knew a special musical method but did not want to teach it. Ben Kamtzar did not want to teach his special method of writing. Concerning the first ones mentioned in the previous Mishna on 37a it is said “The mention of a righteous one is for blessing,” and concerning these it is said, at the end of the verse, “And the name of the wicked will rot” (Mishlei 10:7). The sages in that generation had warned them that they should share their secret talents with others to be sure they would not be lost but they refused to listen without any good excuse therefore the Mishna writes they are cursed, all the more people who refuse to listen to the courts to actually fulfill mitzvos or to not listen can be publicized for their wrong doing and written in the records.
However when the
Rishonim say we are not allowed to speak lashon hara about people who don’t
fulfill mitzvos or who sin even if it is true that is in two possible
A. Either he didn’t realize how severe of a
problem it is to do the sin he did or to not fulfill the mitzvah he ignored, or
B. Even if they understand the consequences
sometimes the evil inclination gets the better of them and convinces people to
transgress the word of G-D but afterwards most likely they regret what they
have done and repent, therefore one may not speak any lashon hara about them.
But people who have been warned to not repeat a transgression especially if
warned by the court has no excuse that they don’t understand what they are
doing wrong and if they refuse to change then it’s obviously not just the evil
inclination overcoming his will to do good in the moment therefore it is
permissible to speak out against him to be sure people stay away from him and
not learn from his wrongdoings.
Footnote 31: When the Chofetz Chaim says you
are allowed to speaking badly about someone who is purposely sinning and
refuses to listen to rebuke that is only if someone influential who is worth
listening to and can be trusted rebuked him or if you showed him in an
authoritative halachic Sefer that what he is doing is wrong. But if you aren’t
influential enough, even if your rebuke is true that doesn’t give you license
to speak lashon hara because maybe he just didn’t believe you and thought you
were wrong. Rather you should just tell a figure of authority let him deal with
it and if the sinner still doesn’t listen then you can spread the word about
how terrible this person.
Footnote 32: However there is five condition
that must be met before talking slanderously about a person who you know always
purposely does a sin which people know is wrong, however if this person is one
who threw off the yoke of Heaven and just doesn’t care then you don’t have to
meet these five conditions:
1. You have to have seen the sin your
self or everyone in town knows about this guy’s bad deeds.
2. The sin you saw him do either
had to be black and white wrong or one
must thoughrally check into the matter to be sure he did something wrong before
spreading slander about him.
3. Don’t exaggerate.
4. Your intentions should be altruistic
for the good of society to keep them away from evil, no ulterior motives like
just hating the guy, making yourself famous, rather just spread the word for
the sake of truth.
5. You can’t slander him behind his
back but flatter him to his face unless you are afraid he will hurt you then
you can spread the word in private individually as long as your intentions are
for the sake of Heaven, sanctifying Hashem’s Name.
The Chofetz Chaim says that until now we were talking about a person who will regret the wrong he did, because his evil inclination just over cane him, maybe it will take a little force like the court, relatives, or his rabbi, to get him to realize his wrong doing and repent but if he is one who has knowingly and decisively decided to throw away the yoke of Heaven and purposefully does not keep Torah and mitzvos or is someone who on purpose without any remorse, repeatedly doing a sin knowing it is wrong and maybe if he was told to stop he totally ignores it. This type of person even if he is not known to others as being evil but you know his character, the Chofetz Chaim says you are allowed to tell other about the sin you saw him do even if that isn’t the sin he normally transgresses. Even if others don’t know yet that he is evil it might even be a mitzvah to publicize his evil and disposable ways and you shouldn’t worry that others will suspect you of slandering someone, in order to be sure no one will follow in his path, because if you are speaking for the sake of Heaven with sincerity then the truth comes out and people will believe you. This also avoids a chilul Hashem for two fold, one people won’t learn from this bad person’s actions and two of something bad happens to the sinner people won’t question Hashem why such a terrible thing happened to him since they’ll know he is evil. However people who listen to this report cannot decisively believe what he is saying unless it is known that this guy is evil, but they should be suspicious until they verify the matter.