Sefer Chofetz Chaim made it possible, for the first time, for a person to study the laws of loshon hora in an organized fashion. The Chofetz Chaim writes, “I wrote this sefer, where I gathered all the halachos (Torah laws) that were scattered throughout the Talmud and the writings of halachic (pertaining to Torah law) authorities, especially the Rambam, Smag, and Shaarei Teshuvah authored by Rabbeinu Yonah.”
Before delving into the subject matter of the sefer, the Chofetz Chaim describes its overall structure and the guidelines under which it was written. He begins: “I divided the sefer into two parts. The first is the laws of loshon hora and the second section is hilchos rechilus, the laws pertaining to gossip. I then divided the laws into chapters and each chapter into several segments. I added illustrations so that a person could receive practical advice on how to be careful in given situations. I named the sefer Chofetz Chaim, from the verse:
“Mi Ha-Ish HeChafetz Chaim…Netzor Leshoncha M’ra…” Who is the man who wants life … Guard your tongue from evil … (Tehillim 34:13).
“Because I wanted the sefer to be as accessible as possible, I then separated the material into two parts. The essence, which is the halachah that is derived after careful study and analysis, I called Mekor HaChaim (Source of Life). I gave it this name because speech is the essence of life as we see from the verse “And man became a living being” (Bereishis 2:7) which Onkelos translates as ‘a speaking being.’
“The body of sources and clarifications of each halachah I named Be’er Mayim Chaim (Wellspring of Living [fresh] Water), because these sources were the well from which I drew Mekor HaChaim. Know, my brother, that for every point that is mentioned in this work, I cite the source in Be’er Mayim Chaim.”
The reason why he so carefully cites his sources, explains the Chofetz Chaim, is so that it should be clear to everyone that whatever is mentioned in this sefer is not in any way debatable or optional. Everything here is halachah and is required of each and every Jew.
The Chofetz Chaim offers us strong medicine. He understood that this is what is needed to lift us from the complacency, which is so easily felt with regard to loshon hora.
In his writings, the Chofetz Chaim carefully avoids exaggerations and overstatements. Yet he ends this section by stating: “When one will ponder the sin of loshon hora and understand its significance, the hair on his head will stand on edge from the magnitude of this sin.”