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Day 79 - Subjective Listening

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Laws of Loshon Hora 10:4

In the previous segment, we learned that it is forbidden for a person to expose someone’s faults if he himself is guilty of the same. In this segment, we learn that it is forbidden to expose a sin, even for a constructive purpose, to people who often commit the same sin and do not see anything wrong with it. The reason for this is obvious. Their sympathy will most likely rest with the wrongdoer, and in fact, they may report what was said to the subject of the criticism and thereby be guilty of rechilus (gossipmongering). This could lead to a full-scale feud and even to one Jew informing on another, if the people are of low morals.

The Chofetz Chaim also focuses on a situation where someone rushes to the aid of a close relative. For example: Your brother tells you that someone wronged him in business and he wants your help in getting back his money. The fact that he is your brother does not change the laws of shmiras haloshon. If the seven requirements of toeles (constructive speech) have been fulfilled, then you can speak on behalf of anyone. If the seven requirements are not fulfilled, then even if your father asks you to enter the fray, you are forbidden to get involved.

And this, the Chofetz Chaim says, is where many people stumble. If they hear that a family member is involved in a dispute, they rush to his defense without verifying the truth of the claims or the situation. They immediately “declare war,” thinking that this is a mitzvah.

In giving us these guidelines, the Chofetz Chaim identifies the origin of many disputes:

1. Someone takes a side in an argument without questioning it, usually out of loyalty to a close friend or family member.

2. His anger is fueled by indignation that the friend or family member was wronged.

3. He fails to fulfill the conditions of loshon hora l’toeles.

Following the laws of toeles faithfully will eliminate unnecessary disputes and the baseless hatred which is their natural byproduct.

Posted 11/30/2007 9:54 AM | Tell a Friend | Shmiras Haloshon Yomi

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Day 80 - A Preemptive Strike

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Laws of Loshon Hora 10:5-6

The Chofetz Chaim has been discussing the rules of toeles, loshon hora spoken for a constructive purpose. In this segment, he tells us of a case where such speech is forbidden.

Reuven has spoken loshon hora about Shimon for no constructive reason. You approach Reuven and gently rebuke him, but he is not interested in your “pious lecturing.” As far as he’s concerned, there is no sin called “loshon hora.” Now you wish to tell others of Reuven’s sin, in the hope that this will induce him to mend his ways. But there is one problem: Shimon has no idea that Reuven has spoken about him. If you tell others about it, Shimon is likely to find out. This would cause Shimon to have ill feelings toward Reuven. In such a case, you would be guilty of speaking rechilus. The fact that your intentions were l’toeles would not make this permissible.

However, the Chofetz Chaim says, there is an exception to the rule in the scenario which we have presented. If you happen to know that Reuven is the type of person who once he has a grievance against someone, is likely to repeat it to everyone he meets, then you are allowed to do what is necessary to preempt his “loshon hora attack.”

In his explanation of this halachah, the Chofetz Chaim offers us some psychological insight. People generally believe the first thing they hear. If one hears that someone did something wrong, and then is told that the report was false, it is difficult to erase the first impression. On the other hand, if that report had been preceded by, “Reuven is so bitter, he’s spreading loshon hora about Shimon; but don’t believe a word of it,” then it would have been easy for the listener to dismiss the report as false. Furthermore, having been forewarned to expect this wicked report, the listener might rebuke Reuven for attempting to degrade a fellow Jew. When Reuven sees that people are not accepting his loshon hora, and that they perceive him as a sinful, bitter person, he may decide to cease speaking loshon hora.

The Chofetz Chaim says that use of loshon hora as a “preemptive strike” is certainly in the category of toeles. Obviously, here too, all seven conditions of toeles must be met.

The preemptive strike, though a delicate maneuver, can reap great benefits. The subject of loshon hora will be saved the embarrassment which the loshon hora would have caused him. The listeners will be saved from the sin of accepting loshon hora. The speaker of loshon hora might be saved from speaking loshon hora in the future. And the obligation to rebuke our fellow Jew will have been fulfilled.

Posted 11/30/2007 9:57 AM | Tell a Friend | Shmiras Haloshon Yomi

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Day 81 - Bypassing Rebuke

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Laws of Loshon Hora 10:7-8

We have learned that one of the seven conditions for speaking loshon hora l’toeles (for constructive purpose) is that the speaker first rebuke the guilty person privately in the hope that he will correct whatever it is that he has done wrong.

What if it is clear that this person will ignore any rebuke? The Chofetz Chaim informs us that in such a case, one can bypass this condition and go directly to those who he feels should know this information.

However, if this is the situation, then a new condition needs to be fulfilled. The negative information must be related in the presence of at least three people. The Chofetz Chaim explains why:

If the speaker does not rebuke the perpetrator and relates the information (l’toeles) to only one or two people, he will be defeating his purpose. He appears to be revealing the information in a secretive way so that the subject will never know of his report and will remain his friend. His listeners, therefore, will suspect him of lying, of fabricating the report to make that person look bad while keeping it a secret from him.

This is not the case when he reveals it before three people. We have already learned (Days 29- 31) that a group of three or more is considered a public forum, and whatever is said in such a setting is virtually certain to become publicized. Therefore, by speaking in front of three, the person is making it clear that his intentions are pure. He knows that eventually his report will reach the ears of the subject. Nevertheless, he is relating the information for the constructive purpose which he has explained to his listeners.

The Chofetz Chaim notes that though the listeners can act upon the information, they are permitted only to consider that it might be true, but they cannot conclude that it is true. They must allow for the possibility that the speaker may have overlooked a critical point which would change the nature of the report significantly.

Therefore, says the Chofetz Chaim, it is forbidden for the listeners to lower their opinion of the subject without verifying the report. Once again, this may seem like a difficult approach to take, but if Hashem requires it of us, we can be sure that it is within our power to accomplish.

Posted 12/5/2007 9:53 PM | Tell a Friend | Shmiras Haloshon Yomi

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Day 82 - Beyond Reproach

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Laws of Loshon Hora 10:9-10

In the previous segment, we learned that when negative information needs to be related l’toeles (for a constructive purpose) and rebuke is not possible, then the report must be said in the presence of at least three people.

In this segment, the Chofetz Chaim tells us that there is an exception to this rule: When the speaker is respected as a man of truth and a straightforward individual who would not say anything behind someone’s back that he would not say in his presence, then he can relate the information privately and does not need to speak in front of three people.

As explained in the previous segment, three people are needed when there is a possibility that the speaker will be suspected of lying or trying to speak badly of someone without that person finding out. As a public forum, the group of three gives credibility to both the speaker and his report. However, when the speaker is respected as being a man of absolute integrity, he will not be suspected of lying or of improper motives. Therefore, there is no need for a group of three.

The Chofetz Chaim concludes this segment by pointing out a difference between a report involving a sin between man and his fellow and one involving a sin between man and Hashem. In the latter case, such information can be related l’toeles only if the person has intentionally committed this sin numerous times, and only if it is something which we would expect the average religious Jew to recognize as a sin.

Posted 12/5/2007 10:14 PM | Tell a Friend | Shmiras Haloshon Yomi

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Day 83 - Ulterior Motives

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM -- Laws of Loshon Hora 10:11-12

We learned previously that one of the seven conditions of toeles is that our intentions be purely for a constructive purpose. In this segment, the Chofetz Chaim examines some of the difficulties in meeting this condition. Suppose that you were cheated in a business deal. You wish to publicize the matter, not so that you can reclaim your money, but to influence the cheater to mend his ways. In such a case, you would not be allowed to report this information l'toeles (for a constructive purpose), though to your mind, all seven conditions have been met. The reason for this, explains the Chofetz Chaim, is that when a person's misdeed has affected you personally -- whether through embarrassment, physical harm or financial loss -- it is inconceivable that your intentions in relating the incident are entirely pure. You will undoubtedly derive satisfaction from having the misdeed publicized, so that the person will be shamed and scorned for what he has done to you. And this removes the report from the category of toeles and makes it forbidden.

On the other hand, if you had seen someone else being cheated, and you knew that the cheater would not listen to rebuke, you would be permitted to publicize his misdeed to prevent others from being cheated or from following in the cheater's ways.

The Chofetz Chaim comments that given the above, it should be obvious that we must refrain from speaking against someone who indirectly hurt us by failing to fulfill his interpersonal obligations; for example, he has refused our request for a loan or charity contribution. Unfortunately, writes the Chofetz Chaim, this type of loshon hora is all too common. For example: A fundraiser travels to a city and is not given the reception he expected. Upon leaving the city, he may feel justified in criticizing the community's leaders or the community in general for what he perceives as stinginess or lack of hospitality. To his mind, there was no excuse for the way he was treated, and he rationalizes that it is a "mitzvah" to publicize this. He is absolutely wrong. The fact that he was the one who was affected by the community's behavior disqualifies him from speaking about what happened.

We may add that in this example, the fundraiser failed to take into account the many factors which may play a role when one is faced with a tzedakah request. A person could be experiencing tough times. He may have just given to a similar cause. He may be very involved at the moment with a specific cause and is channeling most of his resources in that direction. Or, the fundraiser may simply have made a poor presentation. Instead of considering these possibilities, the fundraiser has condemned a community.

The Chofetz Chaim writes: "If because of this, he disgraces an entire community, he has committed a dreadful sin. Loshon hora is forbidden even when the information is true, as we have already written, and even when one speaks against a specific individual. Certainly it is forbidden to speak against an entire community of Jews, who are steadfast in their belief in Hashem -- surely this is a great sin."

Posted 12/5/2007 10:17 PM | Tell a Friend | Shmiras Haloshon Yomi

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Day 84 - The Art of Self-Defense

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM -- Laws of Loshon Hora 10:13

The tongue is an awesome weapon. It can destroy people's lives and reputations. It can create divisions between people and tear apart entire communities.

But there are times when even gentle, respectful people have to resort to words as a weapon: in self defense.

People sometimes inflict real harm on others -- sometimes financial, sometimes physical or emotional. There are many situations where the desired course is to forego our presumed rights in a dispute or to overlook the hurt which we have suffered -- for the sake of peace, and so that we may rise to the lofty levels which the Torah seeks of us. But this is by no means a blanket principle, because the Torah does not want us to become victims of exploitation or abuse.

When a strong self-defense is called for, the Torah places the weapon of words at our disposal, with careful instructions on how to use them.

The Chofetz Chaim explains:

We have learned in the previous segment that if someone has wronged me, I am forbidden to tell others of his misdeed for the constructive purpose of influencing him to correct his behavior. This is because we must assume that my true intention, at least partially, is simply to derive satisfaction from having others know of the wrong which was committed. However, says the Chofetz Chaim, I would be permitted to tell others what happened if this will help to have the wrong corrected. For example, if someone steals from me, and I can influence him to return the money by speaking to his parents or rav (rabbi) and convincing them of my case, then in most instances, the Torah will allow me to pursue that course of action.
Another example would be in the case of verbal abuse or physical harm. If someone has hurt me in such ways, and is likely to continue doing so, I can tell my story to those people who are in a position to convince the abuser to stop.

The same would apply if I were to learn that someone is planning to harm me and I can thwart his plans by speaking to the appropriate party. The words spoken in an effort to enlist help in these situations are permissible, though they denigrate the abuser. Halachah permits them in the guise of self-defense, as a shield and not a sword.

Posted 12/5/2007 11:34 PM | Tell a Friend | Shmiras Haloshon Yomi

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Day 85 - A Necessary Review

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Laws of Loshon Hora 10:14

We have learned in the previous segment that if someone has been hurt by another party and he can reclaim his loss or prevent further hurt by telling others of the incident, he is permitted to do so. The Chofetz Chaim begins this segment by stating:

“However, one must be extremely careful with this license, that none of the seven conditions mentioned above be omitted. For if he will not be extremely careful, he will easily be trapped in the snare of the yetzer hara and through this license, he will be counted among those whom the Torah considers baalei loshon hora.   Because of this [danger], I will review all seven conditions with a bit of additional comment.”

The Chofetz Chaim then reviews the seven conditions:

1. One must have firsthand knowledge of the negative incident. Otherwise, says the Chofetz Chaim, one cannot be certain that the alleged perpetrator is really the guilty party! If one has second_ hand negative information to relate l’toeles, he must make it clear that his words are based on hearsay.

2. One must be certain that he is interpreting the facts correctly. The Chofetz Chaim states that this is probably the most difficult condition of all (where one has been hurt personally) because people’s perceptions are usually subjective. He warns, “One never sees himself as guilty; each man thinks that his way is correct. If he stumbles in this [and speaks against someone who is, in fact, innocent], then he is guilty of hotzaas shem ra (slander), which is worse than loshon hora.”

3. If there is a chance that the culprit will heed rebuke, and it is likely that rebuke will not make matters worse, then one must first speak to the subject privately and attempt to convince him to right the wrong on his own.

4. There can be no exaggerations and no detail may be omitted if it casts the culprit in a somewhat better light. Sometimes leaving out a small positive point of the story makes the culprit appear worse than he actually is.

5. One’s intentions must be purely l’toeles, for a constructive purpose. In cases where one has a personal interest but the negative information is necessary to protect others, he should speak to a rav for guidance in how to proceed.

6. If one can effect a solution without resorting to loshon hora, he must choose that route. The Chofetz Chaim adds here that if it is possible to omit certain negative details and still accomplish the constructive purpose, then those details should be omitted.

7. One must be certain that the report will not cause the culprit any damage which is not sanctioned by halachah.

Posted 12/6/2007 10:50 PM | Tell a Friend | Shmiras Haloshon Yomi

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Day 86 - Be Prepared

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Laws of Loshon Hora 10:15_16

A successful public speaker knows that proper preparation is the key to delivering a good speech. A lecturer cannot come unprepared to deliver an address and expect his thoughts to be organized and his words eloquent.

The Chofetz Chaim tells us, “Come see, my brother, how carefully one has to weigh each word [before speaking negatively l’toeles] when someone has wronged him, because when he speaks he stands in great danger of transgressing the sin of loshon hora. Clearly, it is regarding this that we can say, ‘Death and life are in the power of the tongue’ (Mishlei 18:21). If one will not consider carefully before he speaks exactly how he is going to present the matter, he will surely stumble, God forbid. For at that moment, his anger will get the better of him and it will be impossible to exercise proper caution.”

When someone, without proper forethought, tells others how someone has hurt him or is planning to hurt him, his emotions quickly override his intentions to speak only l’toeles.

Once one has decided exactly what he wants to say, he should carefully examine his presentation in the light of the seven requirements of constructive speech. He should analyze each thought. Does it contain anything inflammatory? Are there any exaggerations? One should consider possible questions which the listener might ask and how to respond. One should be prepared to respond quickly, without stumbling, for once the speaker begins to stumble, it will be hard for him to regain control of the conversation—and that is when loshon hora can begin. Furthermore, if the speaker will not prepare himself well, the listener may elicit information that should not be offered.

If these precautions seem excessive, imagine the precautions a person would take if he were working in a lab where deadly viruses are studied. That is how situations involving potential loshon hora should be treated, for as Shlomo HaMelech declared: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”

Posted 12/7/2007 3:22 PM | Tell a Friend | Shmiras Haloshon Yomi

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Day 87 - Who’s to Blame?

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Laws of Loshon Hora 10:17

In this segment, the Chofetz Chaim examines a case in which you are wrongly accused of something, and it is obvious that the real wrongdoer had to be either you or someone else within your circle.

Obviously, it would be forbidden to inform on the real culprit. The Chofetz Chaim tells us that the halachah does allow you to say, “I didn’t do it.” However, in cases where there are only two possible culprits and saying “I didn’t do it” automatically places the blame on the other person, other factors need to be considered in deciding the halachah (see Be’er Mayim Chaim §43).

Even where you are allowed to say, “I didn’t do it,” this response would be considered acting according to the strict letter of the law. However, it is considered praiseworthy to go beyond the letter of the law and actually accept the blame to protect the guilty party.

Obviously, the Chofetz Chaim is recommending this only for someone with the emotional strength to absorb the consequences. He is certainly not recommending that one do something which would cause him great distress or involve him in a feud. On the other hand, there are situations in which there is much to be gained by accepting the blame for someone else.

For example, suppose someone feels slighted because he was not invited to an important shul (synagogue) function which you helped organize. If you have an established, close relationship with the person, he is more likely to be forgiving of your wrongdoing than he would be toward someone else. If you accept the blame for this oversight, your friend will understand that no harm was intended, and the tension will be defused.

Posted 12/7/2007 3:22 PM | Tell a Friend | Shmiras Haloshon Yomi

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Day 88 - Rechilus

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Laws of Rechilus 1:1-2

With this segment, we begin the second part of Sefer Chofetz Chaim, which is devoted to hilchos rechilus, the laws of gossipmongering. The Chofetz Chaim begins by citing the verse which explicitly prohibits rechilus: “Lo Seileich Rachil B’Amecha,” You shall not go as a peddler of gossip among your people (Vayikra 19:16). The Chofetz Chaim emphasizes the gravity of this sin: “It has destroyed many souls among the Jewish people.” He explains that in the Torah, this commandment is immediately followed by “You shall not stand aside while your fellow’s blood is shed.” Words of gossip, which cause ill will and hatred among Jews, have the power to destroy and defame families, friends and communities.

As proof of the damage which rechilus can cause, the Chofetz Chaim cites the case of Doeg HaAdomi. Doeg informed King Shaul that Achimelech the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) had granted refuge to David, for whom Shaul was hunting. Shaul accepted this wicked report and ordered the Kohanim of Nov killed. Such is the power of rechilus.

The Chofetz Chaim offers us a very clear picture of a rachil, a peddler of gossip. This is a person who goes from one person to the next saying, “Did you hear what Reuven said about you?” “Did you hear what Reuven did to you?” “Did you hear what Reuven wants to do to you?”

The Chofetz Chaim goes further. Even if the reported information is not inherently negative and the subject himself would freely admit to it, it is still rechilus. It is rechilus, says the Chofetz Chaim, even if the person’s words or actions were absolutely justified.

For example: Reuven has a habit of double-parking his car in congested areas. One day his doubleparking causes a major traffic jam. Shimon passes by and comments that parking in such a way is inexcusable. Someone approaches Reuven and says, “Do you know what Shimon said…?” Though Shimon’s comment may have been justified, the person who quoted Shimon in Reuven’s presence was guilty of rechilus.

The animosity which rechilus creates is what matters; the fact that the subject was correct does not erase the ill will which the report caused. Such ill will is the product of feeling attacked. It comes from finding out that someone has been talking about you. Think of your own reaction — the instant anger — that is aroused from hearing that someone has criticized your performance in some area.

The Torah recognizes the terrible destruction which strife causes within Klal Yisrael (the Jewish people). Disunity disqualifies us from receiving Hashem’s blessings. Rechilus fosters strife and creates rifts among Jews which sometimes are irreparable. The laws of shmiras haloshon are a gift from Hashem designed to preserve love and unity. Follow them and you will be a source of blessing for yourself, your loved ones and all the Jewish people.

Posted 12/9/2007 11:15 PM | Tell a Friend | Shmiras Haloshon Yomi

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Day 89 - Third-Party Support

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Laws of Rechilus 1:3

The Chofetz Chaim begins the laws of rechilus with some fundamental points. Good intentions do not remove a statement from the category of rechilus. If a statement can cause ill will it is forbidden, regardless of the speaker’s good intentions.

The Chofetz Chaim focuses on a common tactic used in arguments between husband and wife, child and parent or employee and employer. Often, people name a third party as supporting their opinion.

A wife tells her husband, “Even your sister agrees with me. She says I’m right.” A son tells his mother, “Even David’s mother says I’m right that boys my age should be allowed to drive.” An employee tells his boss, “You know, your friend Mr. Friedman told me that I’m worth a lot more than you’re paying me.”

Using another person’s opinion to bolster your case does not win arguments. Often it serves to infuriate the person with whom you are arguing. The employer who is underpaying his employee will not suddenly be won over to his employee’s way of thinking because his friend thinks that the man deserves a raise. The more likely response is, “What right does he have to interfere? What does he know about my business?” The mother whose son wants to drive will not suddenly change her mind based on another mother’s opinion. Her response most likely will be, “How dare she meddle in matters between myself and my child?”

Despite its ineffectiveness, people use this strategy for a simple reason. They feel that it strengthens their position by turning it into a majority opinion. The hope is that the opposing party will feel outnumbered and therefore capitulate.

But Halachah looks past the strategies to the end result, and it identifies this strategy as one that is likely to create ill will. And that is why it is forbidden.

Posted 12/10/2007 11:10 PM | Tell a Friend | Shmiras Haloshon Yomi

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Day 90 - Misconceptions

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Laws of Rechilus 1:4-5

Just as, by definition, loshon hora is derogatory or harmful information which is true, so, too, is rechilus true information which can cause ill will. If the information is false, the transgression is even more severe. The Chofetz Chaim cites a series of verses (Mishlei 6:16-19) which state that a person who causes bad feelings between friends through rechilus is deemed a rasha (wicked person) and is despicable in the eyes of Hashem.

It is a serious mistake to think that speaking rechilus to someone who is already an enemy of the subject is not forbidden. It is. Though animosity was already present, it is forbidden to deliver a report which will deepen the rift.

The Chofetz Chaim warns us concerning another misconception, that it is not a sin to reveal information when pressured to do so. Consider this scenario: Your friend the contractor has just finished renovating a kitchen for your friend the homeowner. The homeowner was not completely satisfied with the job and he told this to some friends. Now you meet the contractor, and he says, “Someone happened to mention that you were present when Levi talked about the work I did at his house. What did he have to say?” If you hesitate before responding, he might say, “What’s the matter? Is he unhappy about something?”

At this point, you are in a difficult situation. If you say, “He’s not unhappy,” you’re implying that he isn’t particularly happy, either. If you refuse to discuss it, the implication is also negative. The best strategy, if you can anticipate this type of situation, is to prepare a quick, simple answer that will preempt further conversation about that topic. You should not relate what Levi actually said, despite the pressure to do so.

The Chofetz Chaim concludes that even if one’s father or rebbi (Torah teacher) asks him, “What did so-and-so say about me?” it is forbidden to say anything negative. Responding negatively to, “Did they like my shiur (Torah lecture)?” also falls under the category of rechilus. Here, too, one must delicately and respectfully avoid an accurate response.

Posted 12/11/2007 11:21 PM | Tell a Friend | Shmiras Haloshon Yomi

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Day 91 - A Worthwhile Sacrifice

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Laws of Rechilus 1:6-7

Rechilus has particular application to the business world because it is common for customers and vendors to traffic information to advance their commercial position. A vendor looking for his customer’s favor might reveal what the customer’s competitors have said about him or done to him. An employee might try to ingratiate himself to his supervisor by reporting what his fellow employees are saying about him, positioning himself as the boss’s ally and confidant.

Whatever the case, it is forbidden to speak rechilus, even if it means losing one’s job. If an employee is pressured by his supervisor to reveal rechilus and his refusal will place him under suspicion as an accomplice in the alleged “crime,” he is required to accept that consequence and remain silent. As the Chofetz Chaim notes, a Jew is required to surrender all his possessions rather than transgress a single negative commandment. To speak rechilus is as much a Torah prohibition as eating ham.

The Chofetz Chaim adds that one may certainly not speak rechilus if the consequence is embarrassment or derision. He cites the famous Talmudic passage (quoted above in Day 58) where our Sages apply the verse “And those who love Him are like the sun going forth in its strength” (Shoftim 5:31), to a person who remains silent in the face of insult.

Previously, the Chofetz Chaim declared that it is better to be considered a fool one’s entire life on this world than to be considered a fool for one moment before the King of all kings. Here, he reminds us that when suffering shame or ridicule for refusing to speak rechilus, one earns the great distinction of being called an oheiv Hashem, one who loves Hashem. Furthermore, though he is humiliated now, he is assured that ultimately he will be glorified, not diminished. Our Sages grant this assurance to anyone who bears insult in silence. Surely, says the Chofetz Chaim, this applies to someone who suffers disgrace for the sake of a mitzvah — in this case, the mitzvah of shmiras halashon.

Posted 12/13/2007 11:50 AM | Tell a Friend | Shmiras Haloshon Yomi

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Day 92 - For the Sake of Peace

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Laws of Rechilus 1:8-9

The Chofetz Chaim has already informed us that we are not permitted to speak rechilus even when pressured to do so. In this segment, he tells us that if possible, one should evade the issue without resorting to an outright lie. However, if it is obvious that the other person will not accept such an answer, one is even permitted to lie. Our Sages teach that though “the seal of G-d is truth” and we are commanded to distance ourselves from falsehood, it is permissible to lie for the sake of peace (Yevamos 65). This is derived from the episode in the Torah where the angels (disguised as wayfarers) informed Avraham and Sarah that they would be granted a child. Sarah laughed incredulously, for how could a couple so old be granted a child? Hashem was displeased with Sarah’s laughter, and He confronted Avraham, asking, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Can it be true that I will give birth when I am old?’” (Breishis 18:13). In fact, Sarah had also said, “… and my husband is old.” As Rashi states, Hashem altered the truth for the sake of peace, for Avraham may have felt hurt that his wife referred to him as “old.”

From this, we see the incredible importance the Torah attaches to maintaining peace within the Jewish people, whether among friends, family or communities. In instructing us to alter the truth for the sake of peace, Hashem is not asking us to transgress. Truth, from the Torah’s perspective, is more than words. Maharal explains that from the Torah’s perspective, animosity is a form of falsehood. This attitude is expressed by the Sages’ term for animosity: sinas chinam, baseless hatred. Peace itself is a form of truth, and strife is a form of falsehood. When we speak with the goal of avoiding strife, we are preserving truth and rejecting falsehood.

The Chofetz Chaim makes the crucial point that though we can lie to avoid rechilus, we may not swear for this purpose.

This segment concludes with the case where someone is seeking just one piece of information which will complete the picture. He knows that someone has spoken behind his back, he knows what was said, but he does not know who said it. To supply this piece of information would be rechilus. The same would apply if one were to relate the story without mentioning names, but the listener could deduce the identity of the culprit.

Posted 12/13/2007 10:10 PM | Tell a Friend | Shmiras Haloshon Yomi

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Day 93 - Subtle Incitement

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Laws of Rechilus 1:10-11

Rechilus comes in many forms. In this segment, the Chofetz Chaim examines a case which is unusual in that the listener is not being told anything which he did not already know. Consider the following:

The Finestones and the Breckers were celebrating the bar mitzvahs of their sons on the same night. They became embroiled in a dispute when both attempted to book the same catering hall. Three years later, the feud is all but forgotten. Mr. Sanders, who does not get along with the Breckers, would like to reignite the feud. So he casually remarks to Mr. Finestone, “There are so many simchas (happy occasions) being celebrated these days, I’ll bet it happens that friends try to book the same hall.” “Yes,” replies Mr. Finestone, “as a matter of fact, it happened to us a few years ago …” Mr. Sanders is guilty of speaking rechilus.

The Chofetz Chaim adds that, as with loshon hora, it is forbidden to communicate rechilus in writing.

It is also forbidden to inform a businessman that someone has spoken badly of his merchandise. Such comments are considered rechilus because obviously the businessman may feel ill will towards the person. This applies not only to merchandise, but to anyone’s personal possessions.

For example: imagine that you bought a dented, noisy old car. Your neighbor meets you and says, “Shimon saw that car of yours. He says you must have picked it up in the junkyard!” Though you know it’s dented and noisy, nevertheless, hearing such a comment about something you own stirs bad feelings inside you toward Shimon. To report such a comment is to speak rechilus.

Posted 12/14/2007 3:49 PM | Tell a Friend | Shmiras Haloshon Yomi

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Day 94 - Ambiguous Statements

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Laws of Rechilus 2:1-2

Rechilus is forbidden even when told to one person. Certainly, says the Chofetz Chaim, it is forbidden when said publicly. One might argue: “If I announce in public, ‘Chaim called Meir a fool,’ Chaim is sure to find out what I said. So obviously, I’m not afraid for Chaim to find out, and obviously I’m telling the truth.” Anyone who would put forth such an argument is overlooking a fundamental point of hilchos rechilus. As we have already learned, rechilus by definition is true information and it is forbidden even if the speaker would be unafraid to make the same statement in the subject’s presence.

The Chofetz Chaim presents a case of avak rechilus, “the dust of rechilus.” The classic case of avak rechilus is where a person makes a statement which could be interpreted either positively or negatively. A few people standing outside a shul (synagogue) are approached by a stranger. He wants to know where he can get something to eat. One member of the group says, “Why don’t you go to Levi? He always has something cooking on the stove.” The issue is whether or not this is a derogatory statement. The speaker may have meant, “Levi is always eating, so he always has food cooking” or he may have meant, “Levi always has guests, and he’s always prepared for extra company.”

In the first part of this volume (Day 29), we discussed whether or not such ambiguous statements are permissible. Here, the question is whether or not someone else may repeat this statement to Levi in the speaker’s name. The Chofetz Chaim informs us that it is surely forbidden to repeat the remark to Levi in a way which indicates that it was meant derogatorily. If it is repeated in a way which indicates that it was intended as a compliment, this would seemingly be permissible. However, if Levi is a person who tends to be suspicious of people’s motives and judges them unfavorably, then the remark should not be repeated to him even where the connotation is positive. The same would apply where there already exists some bad feeling between Levi and the person who made the remark, for here, too, it is likely that Levi will understand the remark the wrong way.

Posted 12/14/2007 3:49 PM | Tell a Friend | Shmiras Haloshon Yomi

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Day 95 - Public and Private Information

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Laws of Rechilus 2:3-4

In the laws of loshon hora, the Chofetz Chaim discussed the concept of “api tlasa” (before three), where a negative statement was made in the presence of three people, which is considered a public forum. Rambam states that such information may be repeated because it is certain to become publicized, and therefore repeating it will not be causing any harm. However, as the Chofetz Chaim explained at great length (Day 29-31), because there are many limitations of this license, it should not be relied upon in practice.

Here, too, the Chofetz Chaim cautions us not to rely upon the license of api tlasa with regard to rechilus. If Shimon publicly speaks badly of Reuven, it would be forbidden for Levi to make Reuven aware of this (or to relate this to anyone else as well).

The Chofetz Chaim then discusses a halachah which has wide application in our daily lives. He offers a case of a business partner who is seeking to break up a partnership and find himself a new partner, but is unsuccessful in finding someone who meets his requirements. It is forbidden to tell that partner, “You know, your partner was thinking of replacing you.” Obviously, the second partner will feel very hurt that his partner wanted to break up the partnership. Furthermore, once a seed of distrust is planted in one’s heart, it is difficult to uproot it. The second partner will worry about the stability of the partnership and will start viewing his partner’s actions by the light of, “Is he happy with me or is he about to walk out the door?” This insecurity can lead to anger, and ultimately may very well destroy the partnership.

We can easily apply this to other cases. Two friends always coordinate their work schedules so that they can vacation together. One of the friends contemplates taking a new traveling partner on his next vacation, but then changes his mind. Someone tells the other friend about his traveling partner’s original plans. Obviously he will feel hurt and rejected.

The Chofetz Chaim concludes by quoting Rambam ( Hilchos Dei’os 7:5): “One who tells his friend words which cause…harm to someone physically, or financially, or which cause him distress or fright — this is loshon hora.”

Posted 12/16/2007 11:32 PM | Tell a Friend | Shmiras Haloshon Yomi

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Day 96 - In the Subject’s Presence

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Laws of Rechilus 3:1

It is all too often that a baal loshon hora ends his tirade with, “And if he were standing here, I would say it anyway!” In the laws of loshon hora, the Chofetz Chaim taught that such bravado is greatly misplaced. Here, in the laws of rechilus, the Chofetz Chaim reinforces his stand. He informs us that it is actually a greater sin to speak rechilus in the presence of the one whose comment is being repeated. For example:

Reuven has told you loshon hora about Levi. “Did you hear Levi speak at the school dinner — it was awful!” Later that day, you happen to meet Levi and Reuven on the street together. You casually remark, “Levi, I heard you spoke at the school dinner. Reuven said that it was absolutely awful.” Levi turns to Reuven who, after turning every color of the rainbow, mutters some kind of denial.

Why is this type of rechilus particularly severe? The Chofetz Chaim explains: If you report Reuven’s comment to Levi when Reuven is not present, then in Levi’s mind there is always a question of whether or not Reuven actually made the statement and whether you reported it accurately. On the other hand, if you tell Levi what Reuven said and Reuven is standing right there, there is absolutely no question in Levi’s mind that the report is true. As the Chofetz Chaim puts it, “If the report would not be completely true, then he would not have the audacity to say it in [Reuven’s] presence.”

In Day 15, the Chofetz Chaim leads us through this very type of rechilus conversation and provides another reason why it is so severe: it has the potential for transgression of an unusual amount of positive and negative Torah commandments.

Posted 12/18/2007 12:40 AM | Tell a Friend | Shmiras Haloshon Yomi

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Day 97 - Second-Level Rechilus

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM Laws of Rechilus 3:2-4

Until this point, we have dealt with what we will call “first-level rechilus,” where Reuven talks negatively about Shimon to Levi, who reports this conversation back to Shimon.

The Chofetz Chaim now discusses “second-level rechilus,” where the subject of the rechilus, in this case Shimon, goes back to Reuven and confronts him concerning the negative remarks he allegedly said. “Levi told me that you said some very nasty things about me!” With this action, Shimon himself has spoken rechilus, for by telling Reuven of Levi’s report to him, Shimon has caused Reuven to be upset with Levi.

The Chofetz Chaim laments the fact that unfortunately this form of rechilus is all too common.

The Chofetz Chaim adds that even if Shimon were not to mention Levi’s name when confronting Reuven with the report, he would be guilty of rechilus  if Reuven could deduce on his own that Levi was the culprit.

Furthermore, if Shimon were to report this story not to Reuven but to Reuven’s family, he would be equally guilty. It is natural for people to take offense when they hear that negative remarks have been said about their relatives.

Finally, the Chofetz Chaim informs us that it is even rechilus for Levi to tell Yehudah that Reuven has spoken badly of Shimon. As we know all too well, such reports often find their way to the subject, and ill will is the result. In addition, says the Chofetz Chaim, to inform someone that one Jew has spoken negatively of another is to speak loshon hora

Posted 12/18/2007 11:33 PM | Tell a Friend | Shmiras Haloshon Yomi

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Day 98 - Fanning the Flames

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Laws of Rechilus 4:1-3

This brief chapter in Sefer Chofetz Chaim is a very revealing one. Earlier (Day 93), the Chofetz Chaim presented a situation where one is guilty of rechilus without telling the person any facts which he did not already know. In this chapter, the Chofetz Chaim presents other such situations. He begins with a case involving a din Torah (court case):

Yaakov leaves the beis din (rabbinical court) having lost a din Torah. While he is not pleased with the results, he does accept them and is prepared to abide by the judges’ ruling. But when he meets his friend Shimon and tells him the news, Shimon is enraged, insisting that Yaakov has been wronged and a terrible injustice has been committed by the court. Though nothing has changed regarding the actual beis din proceedings, and Yaakov still has no choice but to abide by the ruling, he is now angry with the judges, convinced that the case was totally mishandled.

Shimon is guilty of rechilus (of particular severity, since he has spoken against Torah scholars).

This same dynamic is sometimes responsible for marital problems. A wife, for example, may not be terribly bothered that her husband did not remember her birthday. But her friend might feel that she is being taken for granted, and provides her with a perspective that will make her angry with her husband. A husband may not care that his wife does not prepare elaborate dinners. But his well-meaning brother might step in and convince him that his spouse is not fulfilling her obligations as a wife.

The Chofetz Chaim offers another case:

Reuven spoke badly of Shimon in the presence of Levi and Yehudah. Levi goes and reports this to Shimon. Yehudah reasons, “There can’t be anything wrong in my telling Shimon that I was there too—he already knows about it from Levi!”

Yehudah is wrong, says the Chofetz Chaim. Shimon may have doubted Levi’s report—until Yehudah came along and reinforced it. Even if there was no reason to suspect that Shimon doubted Levi’s report, nevertheless, Yehudah’s words add credibility to Levi’s report and strengthen Shimon’s bad feelings towards Reuven. Furthermore, says the Chofetz Chaim, it may be Yehudah’s repetition of the report which causes Shimon to explode with rage and ignite a full-scale feud.

Posted 12/19/2007 10:22 PM | Tell a Friend | Shmiras Haloshon Yomi

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