Constructive Listening

Constructive Listening

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  • March 28, 2019

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Hilchos Lashon Hara 6:3-4

Yisrael is hurrying down the street towards his friend Rafi. “Rafi,” he exclaims, “I’m sure you know the Stein fellow who lives around the corner from us — the one who always seems to be in an

angry mood. You’ve got to hear what he’s up to!”

It certainly appears as if Yisrael is about to relate lashon hara about Mr. Stein. We have learned that it is forbidden to intentionally listen to lashon hara even if we do not intend to believe it. So it would seem that Rafi would have to tell Yisrael that he does not want to hear this bit of information.

On the other hand, the information may be important for Rafi to know; either to protect himself from harm, or so that he can help to defuse a potentially explosive situation.

What should Rafi do? He should say the following:

“Yisrael, before you say another word, please tell me the truth. Is it really important for me to know what Mr. Stein did? If not, I do not want to hear anything about it.”

If is apparent from Yisrael’s response that it is important for Rafi to know what happened, he would be permitted to listen to the report, provided that he does not believe it as fact. If, on the other hand, Yisrael is merely eager to share some “juicy information,” or wants to spread negative information about Mr. Stein because he dislikes him, it would be forbidden to listen.

The Chofetz Chaim offers some examples in which the information will not save Rafi from harm, but nevertheless, he is permitted to listen to it:

Rafi has a feeling that Mr. Stein is not as guilty as Yisrael thinks he is. By listening to the account of what supposedly happened, Rafi will be able to show Yisrael and others who are present that Mr. Stein is not such a bad fellow after all.

Yisrael comes towards Rafi with a somewhat different outburst: “Yisrael, you know that Stein fellow from around the corner? You know what he just did to me? Just wait until I get even with him!”

In this case, Rafi may feel that he will be able to calm Yisrael and defuse the situation. By doing this, says the Chofetz Chaim, Rafi will be “increasing peace among the Jewish people.” This is in fact a mitzvah and warrants Rafi’s listening to what happened.

The Chofetz Chaim cautions, however, that Rafi should be extremely careful not to believe the report as fact “so that he will not be trapped in the net of kabbalas lashon hara.”

Sometimes we fall into this “net” quite innocently.

Tzippy is sitting at a wedding enjoying the company when someone at her table tells a very unflattering story about Malka, whom they all know. Tzippy is distressed that she inadvertently heard lashon hara.

The Chofetz Chaim says that the best thing to do in this situation is to try to immediately right the wrong. If at all possible, Tzippy should try to show everyone how in that story, Malka had really done nothing wrong, or that whatever she did was totally accidental and out of char­acter for her. If Tzippy knows that the woman who told the story dislikes Malka and will probably try to defend her version of the story, then she should wait until the woman is out of earshot before attempting to set the record straight.


One is permitted to listen to lashon hara when he is reasonably cer­tain that there is a constructive purpose to such listening. Even then, he should not believe it as fact.

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