Shmiras Haloshon Yomi
SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM
Laws of Loshon Hora 10:5-6
A Preemptive Strike
The Chofetz Chaim has been discussing the rules of toeles, loshon hora spoken for a constructive purpose. In this segment, he tells us of a case where such speech is forbidden.
Reuven has spoken loshon hora about Shimon for no constructive reason. You approach Reuven and gently rebuke him, but he is not interested in your “pious lecturing.” As far as he’s concerned, there is no sin called “loshon hora.” Now you wish to tell others of Reuven’s sin, in the hope that this will induce him to mend his ways. But there is one problem: Shimon has no idea that Reuven has spoken about him. If you tell others about it, Shimon is likely to find out. This would cause Shimon to have ill feelings toward Reuven. In such a case, you would be guilty of speaking rechilus. The fact that your intentions were l’toeles would not make this permissible.
However, the Chofetz Chaim says, there is an exception to the rule in the scenario which we have presented. If you happen to know that Reuven is the type of person who once he has a grievance against someone, is likely to repeat it to everyone he meets, then you are allowed to do what is necessary to preempt his “loshon hora attack.”
In his explanation of this halachah, the Chofetz Chaim offers us some psychological insight. People generally believe the first thing they hear. If one hears that someone did something wrong, and then is told that the report is false, it is difficult to erase the first impression. On the other hand, if that report had been preceded by, “Reuven is so bitter, he’s spreading loshon hora about Shimon; but don’t believe a word of it,” then it would have been easy for the listener to dismiss the report as false. Furthermore, having been forewarned to expect this wicked report, the listener might rebuke Reuven for attempting to degrade a fellow Jew. When Reuven sees that people are not accepting his loshon hora, and that they perceive him as a sinful, bitter person, he may decide to cease speaking loshon hora.
The Chofetz Chaim says that use of loshon hora as a “preemptive strike” is certainly in the category of toeles. Obviously, here too, all seven conditions of toeles must be met.
The preemptive strike, though a delicate maneuver, can reap great benefits. The subject of the loshon hora will be saved the embarrassment which the loshon hora would have caused him. The listeners will be saved from the sin of accepting loshon hora. The speaker of the loshon hora might be saved from speaking loshon hora in the future. And the obligation to rebuke our fellow Jew will have been fulfilled.
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