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  • April 7, 2019

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Hilchos Lashon Hara 7:10-12

There is a rare situation where one is permitted to believe lashon hara. This is the case of “divarim nicarim”, (lit. recognizable signs), where evidence proves that the lashon hara is true.

In Sefer Shmuel, we are told that Shaul HaMelech had a crippled grandson named Mefiboshes. After his kingdom was secure, Dovid HaMelech showed exceptional kindness to Mefiboshes, assuring him of his inheritance and inviting him to live in Jerusalem and eat at the royal table.

Later, when Dovid’s own son, Avshalom, rebelled against him and forced Dovid to flee Jerusalem, Mefiboshes’ servant, Tziva, claimed that Mefiboshes was disloyal to Dovid and was hoping that the struggle between Dovid and Avshalom would allow the throne to be returned to the family of Shaul.

In the end, Avshalom’s rebellion was quashed and Dovid returned to Jerusalem. At that time, Mefiboshes came before Dovid looking unkempt: “… he did not bathe his feet, he did not trim his mustache, and he did not launder his clothing …” He claimed loyalty to Dovid, saying that his unkempt appearance was a sign of his grief over Dovid’s (temporary) overthrow.

Now Dovid was not sure whom to believe. Was Mefiboshes telling the truth, or was Tziva correct that Mefiboshes was disloyal, and his unkempt appearance was in fact a sign that he was mourning Dovid’s return to the throne?

Dovid decided to test Mefiboshes. He told him that since he did not know whom to believe, Mefiboshes and Tziva would divide Mefiboshes’ field in half.

Mefiboshes failed the test, as he responded with sharp words indicating his displeasure over Dovid’s return. Dovid accepted Tziva’s report as fact and his pronouncement that the field would be divided was carried out.

From this incident, the Chofetz Chaim derives that clear-cut evidence, permits us to believe lashon hara as fact. The Chofetz Chaim notes the following conditions:

The evidence must be strong, relevant evidence which the listener personally witnessed (as was the case with Dovid).

Based on the evidence, the subject’s actions cannot be explained in a positive light. If his actions could be explained in a positive light and he is an average Jew or better, then, as always, there is a mitzvah to give him the benefit of the doubt.

The information is important to know l’to’eles, for an important constructive reason (such as, so that the listener will know to keep his distance from the person). If the information is pointless, negative information (“He is really not bright”; or, “His great-uncle once robbed a bank”), then just as it is forbidden to speak such lashon hara, so it is forbidden to believe it.

The listener cannot rely on the information to attack the person physically, or to cause him a financial loss without taking him to beis din. (The case of Dovid and Mefiboshes involved special circumstances.)

IN A NUTSHELL

In certain specific situations, we are permitted to believe lashon hara when strong, relevant evidence indicates that the report is true.

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