SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM
A Proper Approach
The Talmud (Niddah 61a) makes it clear that although negative information should not be accepted as fact, one can and should act to protect himself and others on the chance that it may be true. Just as it is naïve and wrong to believe the loshon hora one hears, so too it is naïve and irresponsible to totally ignore a report which could save oneself or others from possible harm or anguish.
On a personal level, one’s relationship with the subject of the negative report should not change. Chances are the statement was inaccurate, if not altogether false. One’s behavior towards the individual should, therefore, not be affected at all, and one should continue to show him kindness and assist him as in the past. On a practical level, one should investigate the matter and protect himself against any possible harm that could result should the report prove true.
If, for example, one hears that an acquaintance is dishonest, it is forbidden to think of him as such – but one should keep his wallet in a safe place when that person is around! If one is told that a person who accepts charity is actually well-to-do, one should not stop assisting him until the matter has been investigated and it has been determined beyond doubt that he is not deserving of assistance.
SEFER SHMIRAS HALOSHON
Disparaging the Community
In previous chapters, we discussed the severity of speaking loshon hora against an individual. To speak disparagingly of the Jewish people as a community is a sin of far greater severity.
Regarding the verses, “Do not inform on a servant to his master … A generation which curses its father and does not bless its mother” (Mishlei 30:10-11), the Talmud expounds: “Even if a generation curses its father and does not bless its mother, do not speak against it before its Master, the Holy One, Blessed is He” (Pesachim 87b).
When the prophet Yeshayahu was shown G-d’s glory in a Heavenly vision, he declared, “Woe is me! — for I am a man of impure lips, who sits among a people of impure lips’’ (Yeshayahu 6:5). Yeshayahu’s intent was not to disparage his people, but rather to express his feeling of unworthiness upon experiencing a lofty vision. Nevertheless, Scripture continues, “And one of the seraphim [angels] flew towards me and in his hand was a glowing coal … and he touched it to my mouth and said ‘… your iniquity shall be removed and your sin shall be atoned for’ ” (vs. 6-7). The Sages state that the word “Ritzpah” glowing coal , is a contraction of “Break the Mouth” of the one who slandered My people” (Yalkut Shimoni 406). It was this sin which ultimately brought about Yeshayahu’s death (see Yevamos 49b).