It is all too often that a baal loshon hora ends his tirade with, “And if he were standing here, I would say it anyway!” In the laws of loshon hora, the Chofetz Chaim taught that such bravado is greatly misplaced. Here, in the laws of rechilus, the Chofetz Chaim reinforces his stand. He informs us that it is actually a greater sin to speak rechilus in the presence of the one whose comment is being repeated. For example:
Reuven has told you loshon hora about Levi. “Did you hear Levi speak at the school dinner — it was awful!” Later that day, you happen to meet Levi and Reuven on the street together. You casually remark, “Levi, I heard you spoke at the school dinner. Reuven said that it was absolutely awful.” Levi turns to Reuven who, after turning every color of the rainbow, mutters some kind of denial.
Why is this type of rechilus particularly severe? The Chofetz Chaim explains: If you report Reuven’s comment to Levi when Reuven is not present, then in Levi’s mind there is always a question of whether or not Reuven actually made the statement and whether you reported it accurately. On the other hand, if you tell Levi what Reuven said and Reuven is standing right there, there is absolutely no question in Levi’s mind that the report is true. As the Chofetz Chaim puts it, “If the report would not be completely true, then he would not have the audacity to say it in [Reuven’s] presence.”
In Day 15, the Chofetz Chaim leads us through this very type of rechilus conversation and provides another reason why it is so severe: it has the potential for transgression of an unusual amount of positive and negative Torah commandments.