In this segment, the Chofetz Chaim reflects on the attitude of a certain type of individual, a sincerely observant person who acts as if he has either missed a very important piece of information, or he has forgotten that it exists. We are speaking of an observant Jew who frequently transgresses a specific commandment in the Torah. Though he displays this behavior on a regular basis, we are not allowed to relate this information to others because the person may not realize the severity of the transgression involved. As the Chofetz Chaim explains, there are, for example, observant Jews who have a permissive attitude towards certain bad character traits because they consider avoidance of such traits “recommended behavior” and fail to realize that many negative traits (such as the desire for revenge) are prohibited by the Torah. The Chofetz Chaim tells us not to consider these people reshaim (evil people); rather, they are good people who are in need of reproof.
The human mind is a complex machine. At times we may face a serious problem or issue, but our mind does not read it as such and accords it a lower priority than it deserves. This, says the Chofetz Chaim, is often the case with certain forms of negative behavior, where the person simply does not view the matter as a serious sin. But such a person can often be helped. If we approach him respectfully and graphically portray the seriousness of the matter, it is quite possible that he will accept our reproof and change for the better.
On the other hand, the Chofetz Chaim informs us that we should point out this person’s negative behavior to our children or students and caution them not to learn from his misguided ways. As we have already stated, this is not loshon hora because our intention is not to denigrate the person; we are merely concerned that others should not emulate his behavior. However, it is absolutely essential to explain to the children why this is not loshon hora. Otherwise, they may erroneously draw the conclusion that loshon hora can be spoken in other situations.
At times the Torah allows negative information to be related, but only under very specific conditions. Just as the Torah demands of us not to speak loshon hora unnecessarily, so too, does it demand that we not mislead those who need to know the information. They must know that loshon hora is forbidden and that only in this particular case is it permitted to relate negative information.
We can compare loshon hora to toxic waste and the laws of shmiras haloshon to a protective suit worn by people who must handle these wastes. When a responsible person knows that he must deal with dangerous substances he prepares himself properly so that the substance will not cause him — or others — any harm.