We have learned that if someone says, “This isn’t loshon hora. I would say it right in front of him!” the Torah still classifies the statement as loshon hora and we are not permitted to believe it.
Now the Chofetz Chaim takes the case one step further. What if the speaker actually does say the loshon hora in front of the other person? For example, Reuven says in Shimon’s presence, “I saw with my own eyes how Shimon cheated on yesterday’s exam.” Shimon responds with silence. Can we interpret his silence as admission of guilt?
The Chofetz Chaim says that we cannot surmise that the information is true, because there can be a host of reasons why Shimon would stay quiet in such a situation, even if the information were not true. For example, Shimon might reason that people are more likely to believe Reuven’s words which were said about him in his presence, than to believe his denial. Or, he might be silent simply because he wants to avoid conflict.
The Chofetz Chaim suggests that the person may have chosen to be counted among the “those who suffer insult.” He is alluding to an important Talmudic teaching (Shabbos 88b):
“Those who suffer insult but do not insult (in response), who hear their disgrace but do not reply, who perform (God’s will) out of love and are happy in suffering, regarding them the verse states ‘But they who love Him (God) shall be as the sun going forth in its might’ ” (Shoftim 5:31). As the commentators explain, this means that those who bear insult in silence will not be diminished because of this1, while their antagonists will be humbled in the end.
The Torah demands that we never jump to conclusions, even when matters seem as clear as day. The case of one who is silent in the face of insult is an excellent illustration of this truth.
1. As the Talmud relates (Chullin 60b), at the time of Creation the moon was as large as the sun but was diminished when it complained that it was not fitting for two luminaries to reign together. The sun, which did not respond to the moon’s complaint, remained unchanged.