SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Introduction: Negative Commandments 3 – 4
The relationship in the Torah between tzara’as (a skin disease induced by spiritual impurity) and the sin of loshon hora is well known. Moshe’s righteous sister Miriam was afflicted with tzara’as because she said something about Moshe that had just the slightest taint of loshon hora. Her words were well intentioned and she spoke only to her brother Aaron, yet she was immediately punished with tzara’as and the Jewish people had to delay travel for seven days until she was cured.
If one ever needed proof that loshon hora is as harmful as we have suggested, this is it. There is no other sin so toxic that it comes with its own unique corrective illness. In the Torah’s system of reward and punishment, there are no bolts of lightning striking down wrongdoers, because that would subvert the concept of bechirah (free choice). If Divine punishment were instantaneous, there would be no opportunity to choose between right and wrong. Similarly, if every sin was punishable by its own unique sickness, it would be virtually unthinkable to sin.
But loshon hora is different. It is so dangerous to a person’s well being that Hashem, in His great kindness, provided us with the punishment of tzara’as as a corrective measure. The Chofetz Chaim says that when a person speaks loshon hora, he violates the command “He’Shamer B’Nega HaTzara’as” (Devarim 24:8), in which we are told to carefully guard ourselves against contracting tzara’as. The Torah’s intention is that we should remember to stay away from loshon hora and therefore stay away from tzara’as. Obviously, when we speak loshon hora, we have broken through the protective barriers that the Torah has set up for us and placed ourselves in harm’s way.
The Chofetz Chaim examines another prohibition, “Do not place a stumbling block before the blind” (Vayikra 19:14). This law is violated when one Jew causes another Jew to sin. The Chofetz Chaim informs us that the speaker of loshon hora is compounding his own sin by not only speaking loshon hora, but also causing his audience to listen to loshon hora. The Chofetz Chaim adds that the more listeners present, the more sins one commits. If, for example, a person speaks at a Shabbos table where five people are present, then the violation of “Do not place a stumbling block before a blind man” is multiplied by five.
The Chofetz Chaim adds that this prohibition also applies to the listener of loshon hora. If Reuven begins to speak loshon hora to Shimon and Shimon shows interest in what he has to say, then he too, violates “Do not place a stumbling block before a blind man”. This is because, in all likelihood, the speaker would not continue speaking loshon hora if he did not have a willing audience.
The Chofetz Chaim ends with a word of caution: One should be very careful not to sit with groups who speak loshon hora. He cites the advice that Rabbi Eliezer gave his son Horkanus. “My son, do not sit with groups that talk about the faults of others, because these words rise up to Heaven and are recorded there. And anyone who participates in such gatherings is listed in Heaven as a member of a chaburas resha (a group of evildoers).”
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