“Just as the Torah prohibits us from accepting loshon hora as fact, so too, it is forbidden to accept rechilus,” the Chofetz Chaim states. To accept rechilus is to transgress the negative commandment “Lo Sisa Shema Shav” Do not accept a false report (Shemos 23:1).
The Chofetz Chaim distinguishes between accepting rechilus as fact and listening to rechilus. It is always forbidden to accept rechilus as fact. However, we are permitted to listen to rechilus, without believing it as fact, in order to protect ourselves from possible harm or financial loss. To better understand this, let us consider an example:
Levi and Reuven work together in a law office. One day, Reuven takes Levi aside and tells him that Shimon, another attorney at the firm, has been quietly petitioning the firm’s partners to reassign to him an important case which Levi is now handling.
It would seem self-destructive for Levi not to believe Reuven. If he does not act on the information, he stands to lose a great deal of prestige and income. Aside from the loss of the case itself, Levi’s standing in the firm may be affected if his employers become convinced that he is not qualified to handle such a case. The Chofetz Chaim says that certainly Levi is allowed to listen to Reuven’s report and take measures to protect himself from loss. But he is not allowed to believe in his heart that this report is true (until his own investigations confirm the report).
However, in a case where listening to the report would not result in any constructive purpose, one would be prohibited from listening at all.
In our example, Reuven’s first sentence is enough to tell Levi that a constructive purpose would be served by his listening to what Reuven has to say. Therefore, the Torah permits him to listen and to take defensive action.
The Chofetz Chaim hints at the primary tool for rejecting necessary information as fact, while acting upon it on the suspicion that it may be true. He says that one should not believe such information “in his heart.” To avoid believing a negative report about someone else, we have to focus on the person’s merits and assume that there was no malice involved, or that the report was erroneous. To do this, one must fill his heart with ahavas Yisrael, love of one’s fellow Jew. If we abide by the mitzvah to love our fellow Jew, then our hearts become a source of compassion and understanding. Ahavas Yisrael inspires us to look for motivations which cast a different light on the situation.
In our example, perhaps the partner actually asked Shimon to take the case. Or perhaps the client requested him. Perhaps Shimon possesses certain skills which are more suited to this particular case. Or perhaps Reuven, for reasons of his own, is trying to set Levi against Shimon.
To disbelieve information which is relevant to our personal lives while acting upon the information seems like a tall order. But with a heart infused with ahavas Yisrael, one is well equipped to accomplish this task.