SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Introduction: Negative Commandments 1 – 2
In this section, the Chofetz Chaim begins to detail the negative commandments that one transgresses when speaking loshon hora. One is struck by the fact that there is no other sin in the Torah that has as many negative commandments related to it. If we consider the following analogy, we can begin to understand why this is so. If you were to walk down the street and pass an abandoned house, you would probably find a simple “No Trespassing” sign posted on the door. It would probably not be safe to go inside; the floor might be rotted and one misstep could mean an injury. But the only warning is this one simple “No Trespassing” sign, because the potential damage incurred by entering this house would probably not be catastrophic.
On the other hand, if you were entering a military nuclear missile facility, you would see warning signs miles before you actually arrived at the site. You would be put on notice well in advance: “Beware! You are approaching a nuclear missile facility. Authorized Personnel Only!” As you got closer to the facility, the warnings would become more alarming, and the security even tighter — all in proportion to the potential damage which your trespassing could cause.
The Chofetz Chaim has taught us that loshon hora destroys the world, that it destroyed the Beis HaMikdash and can destroy our portion in the World to Come. Hashem, in His great love for us, took a sin which could have been limited to one negative commandment and multiplied it 17 times. These commandments are “warning signs” for us all along the path of daily life, letting us know in clear, dramatic terms that when we open our mouths to speak, we are entering extremely dangerous territory. The positive side of the power of speech is Torah and tefillah (prayer). But the negative side is real destruction.
The Chofetz Chaim begins with the primary commandment against speaking loshon hora and rechilus (gossip):Lo Seileich Rachil B’Amecha, You shall not go as a peddler of gossip among your people (Vayikra 19:16). In its literal definition, a rachil is a peddler. The Chofetz Chaim asks, “Who is the peddler? Someone who collects information about what people say and do and peddles it to others.”
In the classic case of rechilus, one person tells another, “Do you know what he said about you?” An overwhelming amount of animosity in offices, homes and neighborhoods comes from the misguided belief that it is good and helpful to report back to people any negative comments made about them. Many people operate on the theory that we need to know what others are saying about us. But in reality, the Chofetz Chaim says, rechilus serves no positive purpose. It creates enemies. He stresses that even if the information is absolutely true, relating it to others destroys the world.
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