SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Hilchos Lashon Hara 6:1-2
The Chofetz Chaim now turns his attention to the sin of kabbalas lashon hara, listening to and accepting lashon hara.
The Torah states: “Do not accept a false report.” This, says Mechilta, is the prohibition against accepting lashon hara. There are two aspects to this sin:
It is forbidden to intentionally listen to lashon hara even if we have no intention of believing it.
If we hear lashon hara, whether intentionally or unintentionally, we are not allowed to believe it.
The Chofetz Chaim points out that when a person believes lashon hara, his respect for the person about whom it was spoken is lowered. The mitzvah of ahavas Yisrael requires us to think well of other Jews, not to think less of them because of something that was said about them.
If someone is told lashon hara and responds by nodding in agreement, then he has been guilty both of accepting lashon hara and of speaking lashon hara.
Amazingly, Rambam states that the punishment of one who accepts lashon hara is greater than that of the speaker. Perhaps the reason is that if people would not accept lashon hara, then the evil report would be “D.O.A.” (Dead on Arrival). It would be harmless, and perhaps the speaker, seeing that his words were ignored, would not repeat this evil practice. The fact that the listener accepts the report as fact encourages the speaker to spread more lashon hara in the future.
There are times when it is permissible to listen to lashon hara. If a person feels that he must listen to lashon hara in order to save himself or someone else from physical or financial harm, he is permitted to do so. He may take the necessary steps on the possibility that the report is true, but he may not accept it as fact.
Raphael is on the verge of entering into a partnership with Naftali. The night before they are supposed to sign a contract to make it official, someone approaches Raphael and says, “I feel that I must warn you: if you enter into a partnership with Naftali, you will regret it.”
Raphael is permitted to ask the person, “On what basis do you make your statement?” He would then be permitted to listen to the person’s explanation as to why such a partnership would be harmful to him. Raphael would not be permitted to believe as fact whatever negative information he heard about Naftali. However, he would be permitted to — and he should — investigate the matter to the best of his ability. If his investigation indicates that the report is true, it would be perfectly correct for him to cancel plans for a partnership.
There are other reasons why a person would be permitted to listen to lashon hara without believing it. He may listen to it so that he can disprove it, or so that he can help make peace between Jews embroiled in a dispute, or so that he can be of help in correcting a wrong. As long as there is a beneficial reason for him to listen to the report, he may do so, provided that he does not believe it as fact.
IN A NUTSHELL
We are forbidden to intentionally listen to lashon hara. If we hear lashon hara, we are not permitted to believe that it is true.
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