A Tragic Episode

A Tragic Episode

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  • April 1, 2019

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Hilchos Lashon Hara 6:11-12

R’ Yosef Colon (1410-1480), known as Maharik, writes of a tragic episode that happened in his time. A woman spread a rumor in a certain town that an elderly Jewish townsman had committed a terrible sin. Many of the townspeople believed the woman and they prevailed upon the leaders of the community to treat the man as a sinner. From then on, he was never called to the Torah in that town and was an object of scorn and disgrace.

Maharik wrote:

Whoever embarrassed this man should beg Hashem for mercy for himself, for he takes a carefree attitude towards the honor of the descendants of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. Without a doubt, people who react this way (to rumors) are despicable in Hashem’s eyes and their punishment will be severe. … One who embarrasses his fellow Jew in public forfeits his share in the World to Come. … A person should investigate such a rumor thoroughly before acting upon it. One who does not is taking his own life in his hands.

The Chofetz Chaim points out that the testimony of a single witness in beis din can force someone to swear that he is telling the truth; however, it does not permit anyone to believe the testimony as fact.

The Chofetz Chaim bemoans an all-too-common occurrence:

Binny the Beggar has been collecting tzedakah for himself for years. One day, a respected member of the community announces: “You know what I heard the other day? Binny’s a phony — he has thousands of dollars stashed away in the bank, enough to live on for the next 60 years! Well, he’s not getting any money out of me anymore!”

People who listen to this announcement are quick to believe it. From that day on, when Binny approaches them with his hand outstretched, they offer him an icy stare, but no money.

These people, says the Chofetz Chaim, are guilty of believing lashon hara. They would be permitted to investigate the report to determine whether or not there is any truth to it. However, until they have conclusive proof that Binny is a faker, they are obligated to assume that he is an honest person and truly is poor. And they must give him the same amount of tzedakah as before.

If someone believed lashon hara and has not repeated it to anyone and seeks to engage in teshuvah, the process is not complicated. He must do his best to uproot the report from his mind; he must regret his sin and resolve to do his best not to repeat it in the future; and he must confess to Hashem for having sinned.

Uncomplicated, yes; easy, no. Once we believe something negative about someone, it is not easy to uproot it and convince ourselves that it is not true. Nevertheless, we must try our best if we truly seek to dis­tance ourselves from the terrible sin of lashon hara.


Until a negative report is proven true, we must treat the subject with the same respect and kindness as before.

One who has believed lashon hara must engage in the standard process of teshuvah.

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