SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Introduction: Negative Commandments 7 – 9
One of the worst negative character traits is graphically called “two-facedness.” It means, quite literally, to act with two “faces” — outwardly smiling, inwardly hateful.
Unfortunately, this trait can be hard to avoid in real life, because we sometimes find ourselves feeling hatred towards someone but unable to express it directly. For example, if you harbor hatred toward your boss, you would probably have to restrain yourself from expressing those feelings to him.
The Torah, however, makes no allowance for two-facedness. It conveys to us that acting friendly in someone’s presence while feeling hatred in one’s heart can lead to disasters in human relations. The Torah therefore states: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart (Vayikra 19:17)”, which is transgressed whenever we harbor inner hatred toward our fellow.
The Chofetz Chaim teaches us that this prohibition applies in a very direct way to the laws of loshon hora. If we speak loshon hora about someone, we transgress the law of “Do not go as a peddler of gossip (Vayikra 19:16)”. If we act friendly to that person in a two-faced fashion, we incur the additional sin of harboring hatred in our hearts.
There are times, however, when one may have serious problems with his boss or teacher and is not in a position to discuss this with him, yet needs to discuss the problem with someone. For this case, the Chofetz Chaim teaches us about the laws of toeles, speaking negatively for a constructive purpose. When the proper conditions are met (which we will learn about later in this volume), it is permissible for someone to unburden himself to relieve his emotional pain. When this is done within Torah guidelines, it often results in a healthy solution rather than the backbiting and bitterness that is generated by two-facedness.
The Chofetz Chaim adds that we only worsen the transgression if, after speaking loshon hora we add, “But do not tell him you heard it from me!” This sort of comment makes the matter more secretive and goes to the heart of the sin of harboring hatred towards a fellow.
Two other Torah prohibitions relevant to the laws of loshon hora are those against bearing a grudge and seeking revenge. The Chofetz Chaim states that if we hate a person because he refused to do a favor for us, and later we publicize a wrong which he committed, we have violated these prohibitions, as well as peddling gossip. The above example is, of course, just one possible instance of revenge in the form of loshon hora. Obviously, this rule applies to any situation in which revenge might be the motive for discussing another person’s wrongdoing.
As mentioned earlier, loshon hora is rarely comprised of objective statements. When we hear others speaking loshon hora, we should be aware that such talk is often fueled by anger and a desire for revenge. The speaker feels “I was wronged,” and he is angry to the point that he cannot detect his own lack of objectivity. When hearing loshon hora, it would be a helpful practice to always consider that we are probably not hearing a responsible, objective report of someone’s behavior. Rather, we are hearing the inner rantings of someone’s anger spilling out into words.
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