SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Hilchos Lashon Hara 5:5-6
He is such a weakling!”
Someone unfamiliar with the laws of lashon hara might consider this a perfectly proper statement. “What did I say wrong? He is the nicest person I know — but he is a weakling!”
Such a statement is lashon hara if it could harm the person’s chances to earn a livelihood. The Chofetz Chaim offers two examples when this is possible: where the subject is a hired laborer or a rebbi.
No one would want to hire a laborer who is a weakling. And many principals would not want to hire a rebbi who is a weakling. It is often hard to find a good substitute for a rebbi and a principal might think that “a weakling” is more likely to miss school because of illness.
“He doesn’t earn a living — I know that for a fact.”
When word spreads that someone “is not earning a living,” others will be reluctant to loan him money. In both these cases, “If this will be publicized in the city,” says the Chofetz Chaim, “no one will want to extend credit to him, and this will cause him great harm and aggravation. This will affect his very existence — literally.”
As we have noted previously, if such information needs to be told l’to’eles (for a constructive purpose), then seven conditions, which will be discussed later, must be met.
“On the average day, he studies Torah for about three hours.”
“You can expect a $36 donation from him — that’s what he usually gives.”
Are such statements lashon hara? It depends about whom they are spoken.
To say that a man who works from 9:00 to 5:00 studies Torah for three hours a day is a great compliment. But if we are speaking about someone who is supposedly a full-time yeshivah student, then this statement indicates that something is amiss.
For a person who earns a modest living, a $36 donation is nice. But for a billionaire, it indicates stinginess.
When deciding whether or not a statement is lashon hara, we should follow Rambam’s rule: Any statement that can cause a person physical or financial harm; frighten him, or distress him, is lashon hara.
“What’s wrong with saying that he never gives a donation larger than $36? Neither do I!”
This is flawed logic, says the Chofetz Chaim. Perhaps the speaker is not ashamed to say this, because everyone knows that this is the most he can afford. The person of whom he is speaking, on the other hand, might be expected to give more.
Even if everyone knows that both men have identical jobs and earn the same amount of money, this does not necessarily permit such a statement, if people would expect them to give more. The fact that a person is not embarrassed by something does not grant him a license to say it about someone else.
IN A NUTSHELL
Never refer to someone as a “weakling” or say that he does less than would be expected of someone of his status. Being unashamed of your own faults does not give you the right to say that others possess these same faults.
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