SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Hilchos Lashon Hara 7:5-6
Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, the great Rav of Jerusalem in the early 1900s, was known for his deep love of all Jews, even those who were fiercely anti-religious and considered themselves his enemies.
Once, one of Rav Yosef Chaim’s sworn enemies became seriously ill and was taken to a hospital run by Christian missionaries. The rabbanim of Jerusalem had issued a ban on using this hospital. During his hospital stay, the patient became progressively worse until his life was in danger.
The family knew that only the expert physicians at the Orthodox Jewish Shaarei Zedek Hospital could save his life. But they also knew that the hospital would not want to admit a patient who had ignored the rabbanim’s ban against using the missionary hospital.
To whom did the family turn in their hour of need? Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, of whom the patient once said, “We will fight to the death against Rabbi Sonnenfeld and his cronies.”
Upon hearing of the patient’s predicament, Rav Yosef Chaim, who was then past 70, leaped to his feet, grabbed his hat and coat, and hurried outside into a driving rainstorm. Within minutes, he had arrived at Shaarei Zedek and succeeded in having the man admitted.
R’ Yosef Chaim felt a deep, unconditional ahavas Yisrael for every Jew. We should emulate him. When we see a Jew who was raised in an atmosphere ignorant of Torah, we should pity him and attempt to show him the beauty of Torah. If we see a Jew who was religious but has now strayed from the Torah path, we should pray for him and show him, if at all possible, that we truly care for him.
We have already learned that there are times when it is permissible to inform others of someone’s sins. In this segment, the Chofetz Chaim offers an example of a person who knows that a certain act is considered a very serious sin, and nevertheless intentionally commits this sin many times. His sinfulness is well known to all. It is permissible to warn others to keep their distance from him, and to mention other forms of his misbehavior of which others might be unaware. The purpose of this is so that others will not be influenced by him. While we are concerned for the sinner’s neshamah and pray for him, we need to be concerned for others as well.
Since his sinfulness is well known to all, one is also permitted to believe a report of his behavior that is not well known.
“Four years ago, when we were both in 10th grade, Baruch and I cut class three days in a row — and got away with it!”
We have learned that including ourselves in the report does not give us the right to speak lashon hara. The fact that the speaker proudly speaks of his own antics does not give him the right to say this about Baruch. And the listener cannot believe the report about Baruch, though there is nothing wrong with believing what the speaker said about himself.
IN A NUTSHELL
We are permitted to speak against a known sinner so that others will not be influenced by him.
We may not speak lashon hara about others even when we include ourselves.
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