If one were to compile a list of Torah leaders of the past few centuries who most symbolized ahavas Yisrael (love of one’s fellow Jew), the Chofetz Chaim would surely be high on the list. From the Chofetz Chaim’s written works, as well as countless stories about him, it is abundantly clear that he loved every Jew of every shade and stripe.
Nevertheless, in this segment the Chofetz Chaim informs us that when a Jew reaches a certain level of wickedness, it is permissible to tell others of his misdeeds. We are speaking here of a Jew who was raised in a religious environment, but has cast off the yoke of Heaven, God forbid.
Whether the person shamelessly sins in public or refuses to obey the rulings of a beis din (rabbinical court), it is clear that his errant behavior is not a temporary lapse but a deliberate rejection of Torah.
The Chofetz Chaim says that you are allowed to repeat the wrongdoings of such a person whether or not he is present. The reasoning is simple: if we allow a rasha (evil person) to rise up unchecked in our midst and we do not take a stand against the rishus (evil), our silence is not counted as righteousness, but as foolishness for allowing a cancer to grow unhindered.
The Chofetz Chaim takes the uncompromising stand that if you see the rasha do something which you are not sure is wrong; you are supposed to judge him as if he definitely sinned.
It is important to note that we are not speaking here of a person who was deprived of a meaningful Jewish education and whose upbringing was devoid of religious observance. Rambam compares such a person to a tinok shenishbah, a kidnapped Jewish child, who sins out of ignorance. Surely it would be wrong to speak of such a person in a derogatory way.
In Be’er Mayim Chaim, the Chofetz Chaim explains that speaking against a defiant sinner is not loshon hora because the intent is not to denigrate, but to steer people away from this person and his behavior. Before speaking, one should be sure that his intentions are honorable; if someone hates this individual for personal reasons, then he should not be the one to publicize the person’s misdeeds.
In Tehillim (Psalms 122:7-9) we read: “May there be peace within your wall, serenity within your palaces. For the sake of my brethren and comrades I shall speak of peace in your midst. For the sake of the House of Hashem, our God, I will request good for you. “
The question has been asked: Why does King David pray for peace twice, and then conclude with a request for “good”? The answer is that while peace is the greatest of blessings, nevertheless, for the “sake of the House of Hashem,” we seek not peace but rather tov, what is good and correct. There are times when we must stand up for what is right and speak out against those whose behavior threatens our moral fabric. In this way, we will ensure that the “House of Hashem” remains intact and its Master, Whose essence is peace, will rest His Presence in our midst.