Dcompanion – Beyond Reproach

Shmiras Haloshon Yomi

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Laws of Loshon Hora 10:9-10

Beyond Reproach

       In the previous segment, we learned that when negative information needs to be related l’toeles (for a constructive purpose) and rebuke is not possible, then the report must be said in the presence of at least three people.

       In this segment, the Chofetz Chaim tells us that there is an exception to this rule: When the speaker is respected as a man of truth and a straightforward individual who would not say anything behind someone’s back that he would not say in his presence, then he can relate the information privately and does not need to speak in front of three people.

       As explained in the previous segment, three people are needed when there is a possibility that the speaker will be suspected of lying or trying to speak badly of someone without that person finding out. As a public forum, the group of three gives credibility to both the speaker and his report. However, when the speaker is respected as being a man of absolute integrity, he will not be suspected of lying or of improper motives. Therefore, there is no need for a group of three.

       The Chofetz Chaim concludes this segment by pointing out a difference between a report involving a sin between man and his fellow and one involving a sin between man and Hashem. In the latter case, such information can be related l’toeles only if the person has intentionally committed this sin numerous times, and only if it is something which we would expect the average religious Jew to recognize as a sin.

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A Lesson A Day – For the Sake of Peace

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For the Sake of Peace

      There are situations where refusal to answer a question would itself be a transgression of the prohibition against speaking rechilus. When, for example, one is asked whether or not a certain individual was the guilty party in a certain incident, remaining silent is no less revealing than an explicit “yes.” Here, halachah requires one to conceal the facts, and simply say “no.”

      The obvious question is: Why is lying preferable to speaking rechilus when both are prohibited by the Torah? To answer this, we must gain a better understanding of the commandment, “Distance yourself from falsehood” (Shemos 23:7).

      The Talmud (Shevuos 31a) notes that rather than command us, “Do not lie,” the Torah instructs us to distance ourselves from “falsehood.” In determining whether or not a given statement is “falsehood,” one must examine its end result more than its technical accuracy. A “little white lie,” for example, which is technically correct but intentionally misleading, is falsehood.

      Maharal explains that the Torah views personal animosity as a form of falsehood. This attitude is clearly expressed by the Sages’ classic term for animosity: sinas chinam, baseless hatred.

      Thus, a statement of rechilus which could be cause for sinas chinam is a potential cause of falsehood – and concealing or altering the facts to avoid rechilus is an advancement of the cause of truth. In the Sages’ words, “One may alter the facts for the sake of peace” (see Rashi to Bereishis 50:16).

      It must be noted, however, that under no circumstances may one swear falsely – even for the sake of peace.

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Like from a Fire

      Anyone of even minimal intelligence should understand that one should flee the trait of anger like one would flee a fire. He should realize that without a doubt a tendency toward anger will ensure his condemnation on the Day of Judgment when he departs this world.

      One whose sins exceed his merits is deemed a rasha, wicked person, and as our Sages state, “Whoever is given to anger surely has more sins than merits, as it is written (Mishlei 29:22), ‘And the master of anger has much sin (pesha)” (Nedarim 22b). In Scripture, this term for sin denotes willful sin with the intention of rebelling against and angering G-d. The term is used here regarding the man of anger, because in the heat of rage one has total disregard for Torah and mitzvos. Thus do the Sages state, “Whoever is given to anger has no regard even for the Divine Presence” (ibid.); and, “Whoever rips his clothing, smashes his vessels or disperses his money in a fit of rage should be in your eyes like an idol worshiper … Which verse alludes to this? ‘There shall be no strange god within you’ (Tehillim 81:10). Which ‘strange god’ is within the body of man? The evil trait of anger” (Shabbos 105b).

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Dcompanion – Bypassing Rebuke

Shmiras Haloshon Yomi

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Laws of Loshon Hora 10:7-8

Bypassing Rebuke

       We have learned that one of the seven conditions for speaking loshon hora l’toeles (for a constructive purpose) is that the speaker first rebuke the guilty person privately in the hope that he will correct whatever it is that he has done wrong.

       What if it is clear that this person will ignore any rebuke? The Chofetz Chaim informs us that in such a case, one may bypass this condition and go directly to those who he feels should know this information.

       However, if this is the situation, then a new condition needs to be fulfilled. The negative information must be related in the presence of at least three people. The Chofetz Chaim explains why:

       If the speaker does not rebuke the perpetrator and relates the information (l’toeles) to only one or two people, he will be defeating his purpose. He appears to be revealing the information in a secretive way so that the subject will never know of his report and will remain his friend. His listeners, therefore, will suspect him of lying, of fabricating the report to make that person look bad while keeping it a secret from him.

       This is not the case when he reveals it before three people. We have already learned that a group of three or more is considered a public forum, and whatever is said in such a setting is virtually certain to become publicized. Therefore, by speaking in front of three, the person is making it clear that his intentions are pure. He knows that eventually his report will reach the ears of the subject. Nevertheless, he is relating the information for the constructive purpose which he has explained to his listeners.

       The Chofetz Chaim notes that though the listeners may act upon the information, they are permitted only to consider that it might be true; they may not conclude that it is true. They must allow for the possibility that the speaker may have overlooked a critical point which would change the nature of the report significantly.

       Therefore, says the Chofetz Chaim, it is forbidden for the listeners to lower their opinion of the subject without verifying the report. Once again, this may seem like a difficult approach to take, but if Hashem requires it of us, we can be sure that it is within our power to accomplish.

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A Lesson A Day – Upon Request

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Upon Request

      As with any Torah prohibition, one may not speak rechilus even when he was asked to do so by someone who will be upset by his refusal to comply and has the power to do him damage. One must be prepared to suffer embarrassment, jeopardize his social status, or even lose his job in order to avoid speaking rechilus.

      As with other forms of forbidden speech, one may not speak rechilus upon the request of a parent, teacher, or rav, except when it is necessary l’toeles, for a constructive purpose (see below).

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Root Causes

      Verbal remembrance of Miriam’s affliction will inspire a person to refrain from loshon hora only if he is not in the habit of transgressing this bitter sin. However, one who has developed such a habit, and thus finds it difficult to refrain from speaking and listening to forbidden talk, must deal with his spiritual malady as he would treat a physical one. To cure a physical condition, one must determine the condition’s source and then administer the appropriate medication. Similarly, when one is afflicted with a penchant for a particular form of negative behavior, he must determine its root cause and eradicate it.

      The root causes of loshon hora are alluded to in the Hebrew words for All Gehinnom. These words are an acronym for: anger; scoffing; arrogance; despair; without rule or regulation; negativity; and saying it is permissible. We shall elaborate upon each of these traits.

      There are those whose frequent transgression of the laws of forbidden speech is rooted in the trait of anger. These people are by nature quick-tempered, and their anger flares at the slightest provocation. In a fit of anger, they find it impossible to control their tongues, speaking whatever comes to mind. There is no hope for such people to develop the quality of shmiras haloshon unless they learn to overcome their tendency toward anger.

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Dcompanion – A Preemptive Strike

Shmiras Haloshon Yomi

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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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A Lesson A Day – Ambiguities

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Ambiguities

      A statement which can be interpreted by the listener to mean that one party acted or spoke against another is rechilus even though this was not the speaker’s interpretation of that which he recounted. Such information may be related only if the speaker makes it clear that no harm was intended AND the listener is not known to be one who is likely draw his own negative conclusions.

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Verbal Remembrance

      A method through which one can motivate oneself to avoid the sin of loshon hora and its bitter punishment is alluded to in the juxtaposition of two verses in the Torah:

      Beware of a tzaraas affliction, to be very careful and to act; according to everything that the Kohanim, the Levi’im shall teach you, as I have commanded them, you shall be careful to perform (Devarim 24:8).
Remember what Hashem, your G-d, did to Miriam on the way, when you were leaving Egypt (ibid. v. 9).

      Sifre expounds: “‘Remember what Hashem, your G-d, did to Miriam …’ this cannot mean to remember in one’s heart, for the [previous] verse, ‘Beware of a tzaraas affliction …’ already teaches this sort of remembrance [for, as Sifre expounds, this verse instructs us to always beware of the sin of loshon hora, for which tzaraas is a punishment]. What, then, does ‘Remember’ imply? That we remind ourselves of this [Miriam’s punishment] verbally.’’

      Regarding the positive commandments, the Torah states: “…that you may … remember all the commandments of Hashem and perform them” (Bamidbar 15:39). In the same way, verbal remembrance of the severity of loshon hora is a prime way of avoiding its transgression.

      One may wonder: How is it that people recite the verse, “Remember what Hashem, your G-d, did to Miriam on the way, when you were leaving Egypt,’’ each morning, and yet they speak loshon hora? Moreover, there are individuals who commit this sin immediately after reciting this verse!

      The answer to this is obvious. The Torah states: “for it is not an empty thing for you (Devarim 32:47)”. Midrashically, this means that the Torah is not, Heaven forfend, empty. If you find it to be unfulfilling, then the failure stems from you. The fault is in you, not in the Torah.

      To our misfortune, we have fulfilled the prophet’s words, “Because this nation has approached Me, honoring Me with their mouths and lips, but their heart was far from Me, and their fear of Me was by force of habit” (Yeshayahu 29:13). We declare “Remember” with our lips, but we do not take its message to heart. It is clear that when a person does take its message to heart, the effect is profound.

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Dcompanion – Subjective Listening

Shmiras Haloshon Yomi

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Laws of Loshon Hora 10:4

Subjective Listening

       In the previous segment, we learned that it is forbidden for a person to expose someone’s faults if he himself is guilty of the same. In this segment, we learn that it is forbidden to expose a sin, even for a constructive purpose, to people who often commit the same sin and do not see anything wrong with it. The reason for this is obvious. Their sympathy will most likely rest with the wrongdoer, and in fact, they may report what was said to the subject of the criticism and thereby be guilty of rechilus (gossipmongering). This could lead to a full-scale feud and even to one Jew informing on another, if the people are of low morals.

       The Chofetz Chaim also focuses on a situation where someone rushes to the aid of a close relative. For example: Your brother tells you that someone wronged him in business and he wants your help in getting back his money. The fact that he is your brother does not change the laws of shmiras haloshon. If the seven requirements of toeles (constructive speech) have been fulfilled, then you can speak on behalf of anyone. If the seven requirements are not fulfilled, then even if your father asks you to enter the fray, you are forbidden to get involved.

       And this, the Chofetz Chaim says, is where many people stumble. If they hear that a family member is involved in a dispute, they rush to his defense without verifying the truth of the claims or the situation. They immediately “declare war,” thinking that this is a mitzvah.

       In giving us these guidelines, the Chofetz Chaim identifies the origin of many disputes:

       1. Someone takes a side in an argument without questioning it, usually out of loyalty to a close friend or family member.

       2. His anger is fueled by indignation that the friend or family member was wronged.

       3. He fails to fulfill the conditions of loshon hora l’toeles.

       Following the laws of toeles faithfully will eliminate unnecessary disputes and the baseless hatred which is their natural byproduct.

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A Lesson A Day – Overt and Covert

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Overt and Covert

      As with other forms of loshon hora, halachah does not differentiate between rechilus that is stated explicitly or merely inferred. A statement in which names are omitted is still rechilus if the listener can deduce the identities of the people involved. Also, it is forbidden to communicate rechilus through body motion, sign language or any other means. Likewise, it is forbidden to make available written or recorded material if awareness of its contents could create ill feelings between individuals.

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The Folly of Dishonesty

      Above, we spoke of the great reward for avoiding strife in situations where one has clearly been wronged. And what of the one who committed the wrong, who profited at the expense of his neighbor’s loss? He acted wickedly and foolishly, for his sinful tactics will not earn him one cent more than what has been decreed for him on Rosh Hashanah. By denying his neighbor that which was rightfully his, he will ultimately be denied that which had been decreed for himself. In the end, his wrongful gain will cause his rightful earnings to become lost as well, for, as the Sages teach, the punishment for forcing one’s personal burden upon another Jew is the loss of one’s possessions (Succah 29b).

      The Sages further teach: “If you take that which is not your own, your own will be taken from you” (Derech Eretz Zuta ch. 3). To be dishonest in financial matters is to exchange the channel of sustenance that Heaven provides for one that is sinful. Hashem declares: “It is not enough that the wicked rob, but they even inconvenience Me to return the money to its rightful owner” (Sanhedrin 8a).1

      The above is illustrated in the episode of Yaakov and Lavan. Before fleeing Lavan’s house, Yaakov was shown in a prophetic dream that the birth of unusually colored sheep in his flock was Divinely decreed compensation for Lavan’s ill treatment of him. As Rashi explains, an angel had brought colored sheep from Lavan’s flock to Yaakov’s so that this would occur. As justification for such Divine intervention, Yaakov was told in his dream, “… for I have seen all that Lavan is doing to you” (Bereishis 31:12). And as Yaakov later told Lavan directly, “I served you fourteen years for your two daughters and six years for your flocks, and you changed my wages a hundred times” (ibid. v. 41).

      1. Obviously, nothing is difficult for Hashem to do. “They inconvenience Me” means that the settling of accounts might require changes in the natural course of events (see Maharsha, Ben Yehoyada).

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A Lesson A Day – Old Information

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Old Information

      The prohibition against speaking rechilus may apply even if the listener is already aware of the information being conveyed. Rechilus includes any statement which may foster animosity; repeating how someone maligned or acted against the listener might make the listener better aware of details that would be cause for added hatred. Moreover, if the listener had not yet given much thought to the information, repeating it could be cause for animosity to form.

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Recipe for Success

      The infinite benefit of avoiding strife in financial matters through proper bitachon, trust in Hashem, can be understood with the following parable:

      A father distributed portions of food to his sons who were gathered around his table. One son reached over and snatched his brother’s portion. When the victim saw that his portion would not be returned, he went to the head of the table and told his father what had happened. “I am sure, Father,’’ said the son, “that you do not want me to fight with my brother. That is why I am requesting another portion for myself.’’ Upon hearing this, the father kissed his son on the head and handed him a larger portion than before. The father said, “Let your foolish brother keep your original portion. The next time we eat together, you will receive a double portion, while he will get nothing.’’

      Now, what would the father’s reaction have been had the victimized son yelled at his brother and attacked him physically until he succeeded in retrieving his portion? Surely the father would have been very upset. He would have told the victim, “I would have gladly given you another portion rather than have you and your brother come to blows with one another. What utter foolishness you have demonstrated!’’

      When a Jew adversely affects another’s financial affairs and refuses to honor a request that he cease his wrongful practices, and the victim pleads before Hashem that He replenish his losses—surely he will find favor Above for demonstrating his trust in Hashem and pursuing the path of peace. And his trust will be rewarded with yet greater success in his business endeavors.

      However, if one chooses to feud with the person who has done him wrong, he will not find favor before Hashem, like the victimized son in our parable who upset his father by taking matters into his own hands.1

      1. Of course, the victim has every right to seek restitution in a Jewish court of law or pursue other avenues which are sanctioned by halachah.

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Dcompanion – Impure Intentions

Shmiras Haloshon Yomi

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Laws of Loshon Hora 10:3

Impure Intentions

       In this halachah, we see how crucial a role one’s intentions play in determining whether our actions or statements are praiseworthy. The Chofetz Chaim informs us that derogatory information may be spoken for a constructive purpose only if the speaker is not guilty of the very sin that he is exposing. One who does suffer from the same fault he wishes to expose must remain silent on this matter.

       The source for this halachah is the episode in Scripture where King Yeihu was held accountable by Hashem for murdering King Achav’s household, though he was fulfilling a Divine prophecy that Achav’s family would be destroyed because of its idol worship. Because Yeihu, too, was guilty of a degree of idol worship, he had no right to punish those who were guilty of this sin. Therefore Hashem decreed, “And I shall bring to account the blood of [Achav who was killed in] Yizrael upon the house of Yeihu” (Hoshea 1:4).

       Why should this factor be significant? If one witnesses a misdeed and can have it rectified by reporting it, why should his own lapses matter? The Chofetz Chaim answers, “This person’s intention in revealing this hidden matter is not for the good, out of fear of Hashem. Rather, he wants to shame his fellow and rejoice over his misfortune.” In other words, it is inconceivable that such a person would reveal this information with pure intentions.

       For example, if someone cheats in business, it is impossible that his motivation would be pure in talking about someone else’s business lapses. His true motivation, says the Chofetz Chaim, is a desire to ridicule the wrongdoer. (If the businessman sincerely wishes to save others from this person’s lapses, he should discuss the matter with a rav.)

       There is a message here. Our Sages tell us (Kiddushin 70a) that one who degrades another person often does so regarding the very fault which he himself possesses. Sometimes, we notice faults in others because we have them within ourselves. The Torah, in the laws of loshon hora, recognizes this principle and tells us that before we speak against others, we must first correct ourselves.

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