The Chofetz Chaim writes that one should not equate speaking loshon hora with other negative behavior, such as showing anger or insensitivity. Though these, too, destroy the fabric of one’s soul, loshon hora is in a class by itself. When one speaks loshon hora, he transgresses an explicit negative commandment in the Torah, “You shall not go as a peddler of gossip among your people (Vayikra 19:16).” As one of the 613 commandments, the sin of speaking loshon hora should be approached with the severity we attach to eating non-kosher food.
In the next segment, the Chofetz Chaim will detail many additional positive and negative commandments that one may transgress when speaking loshon hora. Today, he focuses on these important points:
• The prohibition against loshon hora applies to information that is true.
• It applies whether or not the subject is present when the loshon hora is spoken.
• The Torah prohibits not only speaking loshon hora, but also listening to it and accepting it as fact.
The Chofetz Chaim spends a great deal of time detailing the negative commandments a person transgresses when he speaks loshon hora. He does this to make us aware of the enormous damage we do to ourselves when we commit this sin. He shows us that, with loshon hora, one usually transgresses several negative commandments at once.
Another reason why the Chofetz Chaim brings this information at this juncture is to dissuade us from believing that the truth of our information mitigates its status as loshon hora. He details the vast number of negative commandments that are breached precisely when so-called “mitigating circumstances” are present: the information is true; the subject is present, or when we are only passive listeners and not the speaker.
The Chofetz Chaim concludes with an explanation of why the Torah cautions us so strongly regarding loshon hora. If we carefully consider the dynamics of loshon hora, we find that one who speaks loshon hora has not only transgressed a negative commandment, but he has trampled on many Torah laws guiding relations between man and his fellow. The Chofetz Chaim stresses that if we will study this issue a bit more, we will see that loshon hora also causes one to transgress the laws pertaining to man’s relationship with Hashem.