SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Hilchos Lashon Hara 6:9-10
Sefer Yad Ketanah analyzes the verse that prohibits us from believing lashon hara: “Do not accept a false report.” We have learned that lashon hara is forbidden even if it is true. And, in the Chofetz Chaim’s words, “Whatever we are not permitted to speak, we are not permitted to believe.” Why, then, does the Torah use the term “false report”?
Yad Ketanah explains: “Any statement that is disgusting and repulsive is considered false, even if in reality its facts are true. This is because such statements lack substance; no good is found in them, only evil.”
The Chofetz Chaim adds a beautiful thought:
Michoel is a fine, Torah-observant Jew. He is respected and loved by all. One day, someone approaches you and says, “You know, I just found out about Michoel’s dark past. He was arrested twice for shoplifting — before he mended his ways.”
Of course, the listener is not permitted to believe this. The Chofetz Chaim explains that even if the facts about Michoel’s past are true, the statement is inherently false.
What is the speaker hoping to accomplish by spreading his evil report? Obviously, it bothers him that people hold Michoel in high esteem. The speaker is hoping that by telling everyone about Michoel’s past, people will think less of him.
Says the Chofetz Chaim, this is false! The report, even if it is absolute truth, is not a reason to think less of Michoel. He has done teshuvah, he has mended his ways, and asked Hashem to forgive him for the sins of his past. Those sins are not a reason to think less of him now.
The Chofetz Chaim cites the words of Rambam regarding a sinner who has completed the process of teshuvah:
Yesterday, he was separated from Hashem, G-d of Israel … but today, he is attached to the Shechinah.
Because, as we have said, whatever cannot be spoken cannot be accepted as truth, we also cannot believe reports that someone is “not that bright,” “a weakling,” or “failing in business.” As we have learned, all such statements could cause damage to a person’s future, and therefore are lashon hara.
We have learned that one is allowed to listen to [what would normally be considered] lashon hara to protect himself from possible physical or financial harm. The Chofetz Chaim stresses that in the listener’s mind, it should not be a “50-50 possibility” that the information is true. Rather, he should tell himself that the information is probably not true, but he is taking the necessary steps to protect himself on the slight chance that it is true.
Therefore, the listener is not permitted to think less of the subject of the report. He should continue to view him as a fine Jew and should assist him with his needs in the same way that he would have before hearing the report.
IN A NUTSHELL
Derogatory information about others is inherently false.
We may not accept as fact any form of lashon hara; when we need to listen to lashon hara l’to’eles, we may act on the slight possibility that the report is true.
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