SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM Introduction: Positive Commandments 13-14
When relating the bad points of another person — especially when one becomes swept up in telling a story — it is natural to exaggerate for dramatic effect.
The Chofetz Chaim tells us that even one word of exaggeration constitutes a lie, and when it is spoken in a loshon hora conversation the speaker adds the violation of the commandment of “Distance yourself from falsehoo”(Shemos 23:7) to his list of transgressions.
The Rambam tells us (Hilchos Dei’os) that a person who exaggerates someone’s bad points is guilty of motzi shem ra, slander, a more severe form of loshon hora.
By requiring every one of us to observe these laws, Hashem, in His infinite wisdom, shows us the power of one word. In truth, we see this ourselves in everyday situations. For instance, if someone is asked for information regarding a shidduch (marriage match), there is a world of a difference between saying, “He is a quiet boy,” and saying, “He is a very quiet boy.” With that one word, a significantly different image of the boy is conveyed.
By saying that he is a quiet boy, the speaker characterizes the boy as thoughtful and reflective. But the description “very quiet” gives rise to the possibility that he is perhaps reclusive or dull. That one word, which very possibly is inaccurate, might be cause for this suggested shidduch to be rejected. This is what one word can do.
The Chofetz Chaim lists one final positive commandment that is transgressed when speaking loshon hora “And you shall walk in His [Hashem’s] ways” (Devarim 28:9). Hashem’s kindness is boundless; He is deeply pained when we speak badly of Jews, even those who are clearly wrong. Hashem’s way is to wait for people to repent. When we observe the actions of our fellow man, decide that he is guilty, and even go so far as to share our opinion with others, then we have drifted far from the ways of Hashem.
That is why people who speak loshon hora are included among those who are not “permitted to greet the Shechinah” (Sotah 42a). By indicting others through words of loshon hora we have traveled a distance from Hashem that is too far to bridge.