This segment begins with the Chofetz Chaim informing us of how terrible it is to speak loshon hora about a talmid chacham (Torah scholar).
Obviously, we are obligated to honor Torah scholars, and speaking loshon hora is certainly not according them honor. But there is something even more serious at stake. When one speaks loshon hora about a talmid chacham, the underlying message is that the scholar’s flaw disqualifies him from rendering a sound opinion. The speaker of loshon hora is actually saying, “We don’t have to listen to him.” The influence of his wicked words may cause others to say to themselves: “Why should we seek the opinion of this rav? He’s not great enough to come up with the right answer. We might as well just figure things out for ourselves.”
The Chofetz Chaim gives us a helpful insight into the strategy which the yetzer hara uses to entice someone into speaking against a talmid chacham. “It’s true,” says the yetzer hara, “that you should not shame a talmid chacham, but that’s not a problem nowadays. Only in earlier generations, when a Torah scholar was on an exceedingly high level, was shaming a Torah scholar a serious sin. But nowadays, when scholars know so much less, it’s no longer an issue.”
The Chofetz Chaim informs us that this is patently false; the criteria by which we judge whether someone is to be considered a talmid chacham are based on the level of the generation. Anyone who has attained the status of rav (rabbi), dayan (judge), or posek (one who renders halachic rulings) is certainly in the category of a talmid chacham, and speaking loshon hora of him is a very serious sin.
Of course, we are forbidden to speak loshon hora even about an am ha’aretz, someone devoid of Torah knowledge. It is only regarding an apikoros (heretic) that we are permitted to speak loshon hora. This will be discussed in the next segment.
The laws of shmiras haloshon underscore the profound impact which our words have on our relationships with family, neighbors and friends, and the respect which our rabbis and Torah teachers should enjoy within the community. This realization should inspire us to conduct all our dealings and conversations with the care and concern which the Torah requires of us. If we accomplish this, we will serve as a catalyst for elevating our society, and as the “light unto the nations” which Hashem has chosen us to be.