SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Hilchos Lashon Hara 7:9
Shimshy is one of the funniest people I know. Have you ever seen him on Purim? Last year, he came to the Purim seudah dressed up as a candy machine, and the whole night, chocolate bars were falling out of his shirt!
“You know, before every yom tov, he goes to cheer up the elderly nursing home residents — and boy, does he cheer them up! I’ve seen some of them with tears of laughter running down their cheeks.
“And he’s very imaginative. Once, in the middle of the year, he came to the office building where his father works dressed up in a suit and tie, walked up to the security guard — an old man who’s been at the job for the last 40 years — opened his wallet and flashed a fake badge. ‘I’m from the F.B.I.,’ he said, ‘and we’re investigating some strange happenings in the building. You may be taken in for questioning.’ The poor fellow was scared out of his wits!”
While the speaker may think Shimshy’s antics with the security guard were funny, they were not. To frighten and trick the security guard involves a number of sins, the most serious being chillul Hashem.
The speaker is definitely guilty of speaking lashon hara. The question is: May the listeners believe what he has said?
The question revolves around something the Gemara calls “mesiach l’fi tumo” a casual remark.
In certain rare situations, we would not accept a person’s testimony in beis din, but we would rely on a casual remark this person made. The reasoning is simple. Even if the person is not trustworthy enough that his testimony can be relied upon, we might be able to rely on something he said casually when he was not intending to testify.
Example: If Mr. X is not considered a trustworthy person, we would not rely on his statement, “I know for a fact that Mr. Z has died.”
However, if Mr. X is seen exclaiming, “Woe is me! That Mr. Z should be taken at the prime of his life — and in front of my eyes — how terrible!” we might rely on it and declare that Mr. Z is no longer among the living.
Now let us apply this to the laws of lashon hara. If someone would say, “I saw Shimshy play a practical joke on the security guard at his father’s place of work,” we would not be allowed to believe it. However, in our illustration, the information about Shimshy was said in a casual conversation in which the speaker intended to praise Shimshy. Are we permitted to believe this?
No, says the Chofetz Chaim. The sin of believing lashon hara is explicitly stated in the Torah, and therefore the leniency of a casual remark, would not apply.
Instead, we should tell ourselves that whatever was said about Shimshy and the security guard was either patently false or grossly exaggerated. Our esteem for him should be the same as it was before we heard this report.
IN A NUTSHELL
We are not permitted to believe lashon hara even when said as a casual remark.
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