With this segment, we begin the second part of Sefer Chofetz Chaim, which is devoted to hilchos rechilus, the laws of gossipmongering. The Chofetz Chaim begins by citing the verse which explicitly prohibits rechilus: “Lo Seileich Rachil B’Amecha,” You shall not go as a peddler of gossip among your people (Vayikra 19:16). The Chofetz Chaim emphasizes the gravity of this sin: “It has destroyed many souls among the Jewish people.” He explains that in the Torah, this commandment is immediately followed by “You shall not stand aside while your fellow’s blood is shed.” Words of gossip, which cause ill will and hatred among Jews, have the power to destroy and defame families, friends and communities.
As proof of the damage which rechilus can cause, the Chofetz Chaim cites the case of Doeg HaAdomi. Doeg informed King Shaul that Achimelech the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) had granted refuge to David, for whom Shaul was hunting. Shaul accepted this wicked report and ordered the Kohanim of Nov killed. Such is the power of rechilus.
The Chofetz Chaim offers us a very clear picture of a rachil, a peddler of gossip. This is a person who goes from one person to the next saying, “Did you hear what Reuven said about you?” “Did you hear what Reuven did to you?” “Did you hear what Reuven wants to do to you?”
The Chofetz Chaim goes further. Even if the reported information is not inherently negative and the subject himself would freely admit to it, it is still rechilus. It is rechilus, says the Chofetz Chaim, even if the person’s words or actions were absolutely justified.
For example: Reuven has a habit of double-parking his car in congested areas. One day his doubleparking causes a major traffic jam. Shimon passes by and comments that parking in such a way is inexcusable. Someone approaches Reuven and says, “Do you know what Shimon said…?” Though Shimon’s comment may have been justified, the person who quoted Shimon in Reuven’s presence was guilty of rechilus.
The animosity which rechilus creates is what matters; the fact that the subject was correct does not erase the ill will which the report caused. Such ill will is the product of feeling attacked. It comes from finding out that someone has been talking about you. Think of your own reaction — the instant anger — that is aroused from hearing that someone has criticized your performance in some area.
The Torah recognizes the terrible destruction which strife causes within Klal Yisrael (the Jewish people). Disunity disqualifies us from receiving Hashem’s blessings. Rechilus fosters strife and creates rifts among Jews which sometimes are irreparable. The laws of shmiras haloshon are a gift from Hashem designed to preserve love and unity. Follow them and you will be a source of blessing for yourself, your loved ones and all the Jewish people.