SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM Introduction: Positive Commandments 9-10
In this segment, the Chofetz Chaim adds another dimension to the issue of loshon hora, focusing on additional sins that can be transgressed when loshon hora is spoken about certain types of people.
For instance, if someone were to speak loshon hora about an elderly person, he would be violating the mitzvah of “In the presence of the elderly you shall rise [and you shall beautify … see Kiddushin 31b] “ (Vayikra 19:32), which teaches us to treat our elders with respect and honor. Certainly, says the Chofetz Chaim, loshon hora demonstrates a lack of respect. If the subject of loshon hora is a Torah scholar one violates the commandment to honor a talmid chacham, and may, in certain circumstances, be guilty of actual heresy. If the victim of loshon hora is a Kohen then the positive commandment of “V’Kidashto“ (Vayikra 21:8), which teaches us to treat Kohanim with added respect, has also been transgressed.
We know that, often, people act toward those outside their family circle with more respect than they show toward the members of their own family. Many Torah sources stress that the true barometer of a person’s behavior is not how he treats people when the world is watching, but how he treats his family in the privacy of his home. Unfortunately, in some homes, ridicule plays a big part in family interaction. Sometimes, God forbid, a parent is the victim of these barbs, especially when the children are married and their parents are not present to hear their comments. The yetzer hara (evil inclination) has a very effective method for opening the door to this type of loshon hora. He says, “Maybe you can refrain from speaking loshon hora outside the home, but the boundaries of shmiras haloshon (guarding one’s speech) stop at your front door. Within the family, people are close and contact is constant, and shmiras haloshon is all but impossible.”
The Chofetz Chaim teaches that speaking negatively of an older sibling, a step-parent or, God forbid, a father or mother, is not only loshon hora, it is a violation of the commandment “Honor your father and mother (Shemos 20:12)”. There is also a curse applied to children who show parents disrespect: “Cursed is he who degrades his father or mother” (Devarim 27:16).
One of the primary reasons Hashem created the family unit was so that it could be a workshop, a place for the neshamah (soul) to develop. The home is where we learn to be less self-centered, where we develop a love of chesed (kindness) towards others. When the laws of shmiras halashon guide the family’s interactions, each neshamah which this “workshop” produces can develop to its full, rich potential.