SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Hilchos Lashon Hara 8:3
Once, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein was visiting a family on yom tov when he heard a baby crying. The family was so enthralled by the visit of this Torah giant that they ignored the baby’s cries. Seeing this, R’ Moshe said to them, “It is yom tov for the baby too.” R’ Moshe was saying that though a baby cannot communicate his feelings, he is a person and his cries are the cries of a person who is upset — and should not be ignored.
Rabbi Avraham Pam made a similar point. He spoke of the common practice of adults to take away a child’s toy for “fun.” The adult hides the toy behind his back and then has the child guess which hand the toy is in. The adult switches the toy from one hand to the other as the child becomes more and more upset. Rav Pam said that just as it is forbidden to make an adult upset, so too it is forbidden to make a young child upset.
Regarding lashon hara, just as we cannot make statements that might cause harm to an adult, so too, with children. The Chofetz Chaim offers an example of an orphan who is being raised by people who took him into their home as a kindness. If someone witnesses this child fighting with other children, he has to be very careful about relating this to the child’s benefactors. They may decide that if this how the child behaves, then they don’t want him in their home.
Of course, this does not mean that such a child should be free to do whatever he pleases. What it does mean is that before relating such information, one should be absolutely sure that all seven rules of lashon hara l’to’eles (for a constructive purpose) have been met. Before relating such information, the person must carefully consider the outcome. If the result would be an injustice to the child, then some other way should be sought to correct the child’s behavior.
The fact that words can build or destroy is especially true regarding children. Rav Pam would tell of the time a father of one of his talmidim came to inquire about his son’s progress. Rav Pam was truthful, as the halachah requires. He said that the boy was learning, but was not meeting his potential.
The father said, “Really? I’m going to call him over right now!”
Rav Pam’s heart sank, because it sounded as if the father was going to give his son a real tongue-lashing.
The boy came over and the father said to him, “Your rebbi said that you are doing nicely, and it needs to be just a bit better. So let’s see that ‘little bit extra’ and then you’ll really be terrific!”
The boy beamed with pleasure. His learning improved and he went on to become a respected talmid chacham and teacher of Torah.
IN A NUTSHELL
We cannot relate information about children that might cause them harm. If they have misbehaved, the rules of to’eles (constructive purpose) must be met before relating this information.
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