In this halachah, we see how crucial a role one’s intentions play in determining whether our actions or statements are praiseworthy. The Chofetz Chaim informs us that derogatory information may be spoken for a constructive purpose only if the speaker is not guilty of the very sin that he is exposing. One who does suffer from the same fault he wishes to expose must remain silent on this matter.
The source for this halachah is the episode in Scripture where King Yeihu was held accountable by Hashem for murdering King Achav’s household, though he was fulfilling a Divine prophecy that Achav’s family would be destroyed because of its idol worship. Because Yeihu, too, was guilty of a degree of idol worship, he had no right to punish those who were guilty of this sin. Therefore Hashem decreed, “And I shall bring to account the blood of [Achav who was killed in] Yizrael upon the house of Yeihu” (Hoshea 1:4).
Why should this factor be significant? If one witnesses a misdeed and can have it rectified by reporting it, why should his own lapses matter? The Chofetz Chaim answers, “This person’s intention in revealing this hidden matter is not for the good, out of fear of Hashem. Rather, he wants to shame his fellow and rejoice over his misfortune.” In other words, it is inconceivable that such a person would reveal this information with pure intentions.
For example, if someone cheats in business, it is impossible that his motivation would be pure in talking about someone else’s business lapses. His true motivation, says the Chofetz Chaim, is a desire to ridicule the wrongdoer. (If the businessman sincerely wishes to save others from this person’s lapses, he should discuss the matter with a rav.)
There is a message here. Our Sages tell us (Kiddushin 70a) that one who degrades another person often does so regarding the very fault which he himself possesses. Sometimes, we notice faults in others because we have them within ourselves. The Torah, in the laws of loshon hora, recognizes this principle and tells us that before we speak against others, we must first correct ourselves.