SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Hilchos Lashon Hara 7:1-2
The annual shul dinner is in progress. The keynote speaker, a renowned community leader, is speaking about the importance of keeping the neighborhood clean and neat. “It is disgraceful,” he thunders, “when the schools in which we educate our children are sloppy and disorganized. Yeshivah Emes L’Amito is a prime example of this … ”
Mr. Gold turns to his friend Mr. Greenberg, and whispers, “I’m not familiar with that yeshivah — are you?” “No,” Mr. Greenberg replies, “but this fellow seems to know what he is talking about. I guess that place is a mess. I certainly won’t be sending my sons to that yeshivah.”
Of course, the speaker was guilty of speaking lashon hara. Such a statement about a yeshivah reflects badly upon the school administration, the rebbeim and teachers, and possibly the students as well.
Mr. Gold and Mr. Greenberg were not permitted to believe this lashon hara. The fact that the speaker was not afraid to make this statement in front of hundreds of people does not prove that it is true.
However, Mr. Greenberg, who had been considering that yeshivah for his son, is permitted to suspect that the statement might possibly be true. The best option would be for him to visit the yeshivah himself and see firsthand whether or not it is “sloppy and disorganized.”
The boys are quite upset. The gym door is jammed and cannot be opened with a key. They will have to spend their recess in the classroom.
Josh announces to everyone, “I know why it’s jammed. Every time the door is locked, Tzvi tries to force it open. Right, Tzvi? … You see, he’s not answering, because he knows it’s true!”
It seems quite obvious that Josh is right. After all, if Tzvi is not the culprit, why is he remaining silent?
The Chofetz Chaim states:
There is no license to accept lashon hara, even if the speaker makes his statements in the person’s presence, since we did not hear an admission from him … and certainly this is the halachah where the person is not present and the speaker says, “I would say this even if he were here” — it is forbidden to believe him because of this. Tragically, people transgress this halachah often.
Even if he is silent as the words of shame are being said in his presence, this is not proof that the statement is true. This is the halachah even if his nature is not to remain silent when hearing words that are not pleasing to him, and this time he remained silent. For it could be that this time he overcame his nature, and decided not to respond so that he would not be drawn into a dispute; or perhaps he realized that the listeners would more likely believe the speaker’s report rather than his denial. For this is the wicked way of people: they believe anything said in the person’s presence; even if he denies it 100 times, still they will not believe him.
The golden rule is: Don’t believe lashon hara. At times, this may be a very difficult test, but Jews also live by another rule. Hashem does not present us with a test that we cannot handle. The mitzvah of shemiras halashon is within everyone’s power to keep; if we will only make the proper effort, Hashem will help us to succeed.
IN A NUTSHELL
Do not believe lashon hara, even when it is said in front of a large crowd or in the presence of the subject.
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