SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Hilchos Lashon Hara 5:2-4
“He’s a nice person, but he’s not that bright.”
“I’ve seen better contractors than him.”
“The rav knows what he needs to know for everyday she’eilos (halachic questions), but when it comes to a difficult piece of Gemara, he runs into problems.”
The Chofetz Chaim informs us that many people, out of sheer ignorance, are apt to make such comments, not realizing that such statements are pure lashon hara.
Lashon hara is any statement that either is derogatory or can cause the person harm is lashon hara. Can anyone honestly say that the statement “He’s not that bright” is not derogatory? In the Chofetz Chaim’s words:
I ask you, my brother: If you would discover, beyond any doubt, that someone announced publicly that you are not bright, wouldn’t you have a grievance against him? You would think to yourself, “What sign of foolishness did he see in me [that caused him to say this about me]? His statement is nothing more than an expression of his wickedness, and an indication that he is a baal lashon hara.”
All three examples above can cause the person irreparable damage. To say that someone is “not so bright” can hurt his shidduch opportunities. If he is married, it can lower his esteem in the eyes of his wife and in-laws. It can hurt his chances to find a job.
What if you are asked information about someone who applied for a teaching job and in your opinion, that person is “not so bright”? Such a situation has to be handled with great sensitivity; perhaps a halachic authority should be consulted. This is because your personal opinion about the person’s intelligence may not necessarily be correct. If it is correct, it does not guarantee that the person is not qualified for the teaching position. Perhaps he has many other great qualities, and with proper lesson-planning he will make a fine teacher.
“I’ve seen better contractors than him.” This statement can cause the contractor a loss of business, and could conceivably destroy his business. The only situation that might warrant such a statement is when someone who is considering hiring the contractor asks information about him. Even then, the “seven rules of to’eles (constructive speech),” which will be discussed in a later chapter, must be met.
“The rav knows what he needs to know for everyday she’eilos (halachic questions), but when it comes to a difficult piece of Gemara, he runs into problems.” This statement, even if true, is terrible. If the rav is fulfilling his role as spiritual leader of his community and teaching them how to live a life of Torah, then there is no reason to criticize him. Ridiculing the rav’s level of knowledge will serve only to lower his esteem in the people’s eyes. Then, when the rav instructs the people in the ways of the Torah, some of them might say, “Why should I listen to him? He’s not much of a talmid chacham, you know.”
The Chofetz Chaim writes:
Because the rav’s esteem was lowered in the eyes of the local populace, he might be removed from his position entirely. The speaker will have been responsible for [spilling] his blood and the blood of his offspring, for through his lashon hara, he has deprived him of his livelihood.
The speaker has also lowered the honor of Torah and its students very much; he has disgraced a talmid chacham, and for this, our Sages say, there is no remedy for his injury.
It does not take much to damage a person’s reputation. However, once it is damaged, it is often impossible to restore the reputation to what it once was.
IN A NUTSHELL
Criticism of a person’s intelligence or skills can do irreparable harm to his reputation.
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