Heard Outside the Courtroom

Heard Outside the Courtroom

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  • March 30, 2019

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Hilchos Lashon Hara 6:7-8

Levi and Hanoch agreed to end their business partnership and have a beis din decide how their assets should be divided. On the day beis din issued its decision, Hanoch left very upset. As he walked down the street, he met his good friend Moshe, who was well aware of the court case. Hanoch showed his friend the written p’sak (ruling) and exclaimed, “Did you ever hear of something more ridiculous in your entire life? They gave virtually everything of value to Levi! Those rabbanim don’t know what they’re doing!”

Moshe shook his head in disbelief as he handed the p’sak back to his friend. “I can’t believe what I just read. You’re right. Those rabbanim really blew it! It’s a shame you didn’t bring the case before a more qualified beis din. Any intelligent person can see that you were not given a fair deal.”

If you were to ask Moshe whether or not any of his comments were in the category of forbidden speech, he might very well respond incredulously, “Forbidden speech? What are you talking about? I just stated my opinion about a p’sak — what could be wrong with that?”

The Chofetz Chaim teaches us that Moshe is guilty of accepting lashon hara and of not giving the judges the benefit of the doubt. The judges are, of course, talmidei chachamim. We are required to give a talmid chacham the benefit of the doubt even when it appears more likely that he has acted incorrectly. In our case, it is foolish for Moshe to side with Hanoch based on the written p’sak. Moshe was not in court and did not hear the arguments and counter-arguments. It is very possible that had he been present in beis din and witnessed certain points or questions raised by the dayanim (judges), he would realize that the p’sak is absolutely correct.

Aside from the sins we have mentioned, when people speak disrespectfully of a beis din and its rulings, they disgrace the Torah itself and they influence others to ignore, or even ridicule, the words of talmidei chachamim. This itself is a terrible sin.

There are other situations where not giving someone the benefit of the doubt will lead to kabbalas lashon hara — even where the listener knows the facts to be true:

Chayah called in sick and was not at work for two days. On the second day of her absence, two of her co-workers saw her eating lunch with friends in a restaurant. One remarked, “Look at that! I guess she couldn’t be that sick if she is able to go out and party!” The other responded, “I guess some people will resort to lying to take a couple of days off.”

In this example, the first co-worker is guilty of speaking lashon hara. The second is also guilty of accepting lashon hara. Both are guilty of not giving Chayah the benefit of the doubt. It is quite possible that Chayah did not feel well enough to work, but she was well enough to go out for lunch with some friends. Perhaps her fever broke a couple of hours earlier and then she started to feel better. Or, it may be that she really did not want to go out for lunch, but she felt that she could not refuse her friends’ request to join them at the restaurant.

The mitzvah of shemiras halashon and of giving others the benefit of the doubt is very much intertwined.


Not giving others the benefit of the doubt often leads to accepting lashon hara and the disgrace of talmidei chachamim.

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