In this segment, the Chofetz Chaim discusses assessments which people make regarding someone’s physical or mental abilities. It is common for people involved in everyday conversation to offer personal judgments about others which are less than flattering. Such statements can have far reaching consequences, especially in the area of shidduchim (marriage matches).
As the Chofetz Chaim notes, many people are unaware that analyzing a person’s attributes and verbalizing a less than flattering opinion of him is loshon hora. The example he offers is of someone who relates that the person under discussion lacks intelligence. Some might argue, “Wait — that’s not loshon hora. It’s true!” Obviously, these people are unaware of a fact which we have already stressed: A statement which is derogatory and true is loshon hora.
One might also justify the statement by saying, “But it is not derogatory to say that a person isn’t smart!” In truth, Hashem has given each of us the exact combination of attributes we need in order to accomplish our purpose in this world. Unfortunately, however, most people do not consider this truth when they evaluate a person. If they hear that someone is not smart, their esteem for that person is automatically lowered.
The Chofetz Chaim warns us that by casually stating that someone is “not smart,” we may ultimately cause that person harm.
He offers three examples of how this could happen:
1. If the person is single, we will render him less desirable, and this will hurt him in a real sense as he seeks to get married.
2. Whether his livelihood is a craft, business or profession, people will be reluctant to deal with him, since most people like dealing with those whom they consider intelligent.
3. If he’s a rav or posek (halachic authority), then people will be reluctant to seek guidance or a psak (ruling) from him. His stature will be diminished, his feelings and his family members may be hurt, and ultimately, he might lose his position.
You might wonder, is it really possible that all of this can come from one small remark?
There is a famous story about the Chofetz Chaim and another rav, who were traveling together. They stopped at an inn, where the hostess recognized the two prominent rabbanim and ushered them to a table reserved for distinguished guests. After they finished a satisfying meal, the hostess returned to the table and inquired, “Did you enjoy the food?”
The Chofetz Chaim’s companion replied, “It was very good. But the soup could have used a little more salt.”
When the hostess left, the Chofetz Chaim, obviously distressed, informed the rav that his words constituted loshon hora.
“Now the hostess will probably reprimand the cook, who is quite possibly a poor widow who must work to support her family.” The rav, however expressed his doubts that his seemingly benign comment could have such repercussions. The Chofetz Chaim then escorted him to the kitchen, where the two peered through the door and witnessed the hostess speaking harshly to the cook, a poor widow, who was in tears.
The rav hurried into the kitchen and said that the food had been quite good. He apologized to the cook and begged the hostess not to say anything more on account of his careless remark.
The moral is:
Think before you speak. Even a seemingly innocent comment has the potential to cause great harm.