Imagine meeting a friend of yours as he exits a restaurant that was once kosher but was recently taken over by non-Jews and is no longer kosher. Your friend was not aware of this information and is holding a sizzling hot frank in his hand, which he is about to bite into. You feel a bit uncomfortable depriving him of this earthly pleasure, so you decide to hold off and let him take one bite. Once he has savored that first bite, you ask yourself: ”How can I limit him to one measly bite?” And once he has had a few bites, you tell yourself: ”Why not let him have the few more bites it will take to finish the frank?” Finally, when the last bite is finished, you tell your friend that he has just eaten a non-kosher frank.
Of course, this is an outrageous story. It seems like something that could never happen. The Chofetz Chaim informs us that, surprisingly, something quite similar is liable to happen every day. If we allow someone to continue a conversation of loshon hora, it is as if we are allowing him to eat non-kosher food. And informing him after the conversation that he has spoken loshon hora does not absolve us of guilt. Just as each bite of non-kosher food is a separate violation of a negative commandment, so too is each and every word of loshon hora a transgression for itself. The Chofetz Chaim says that to refrain from rebuking someone who speaks loshon hora is a violation of the commandment to rebuke one’s fellow Jew (Vayikra 19:17). On the other hand, offering rebuke, especially when it is an uncomfortable task, is considered a great mitzvah.
The Chofetz Chaim details for us another positive commandment. Observant Jews are especially aware of the influence of one’s environment. A person who spends time with people who are immersed in Torah learning and serving the community adopts their standards, which become the benchmark of his aspirations. Their goals become his goals and their dreams, to a certain extent, become his dreams. It is so important to have positive influences in our lives that Hashem made it a positive commandment to associate with Torah scholars. The Torah states, “To Him shall you cleave” (Devarim 10:20), which our Sages interpret to mean that one should associate with those who are immersed in Torah and devoted to its fulfillment.
The Chofetz Chaim teaches us that if we gravitate to groups in shul (synagogue) who engage in loshon hora, we set up a major obstacle towards fulfilling this commandment. The Chofetz Chaim specifically focuses on loshon hora spoken in shul after Shalosh Seudos (the third Sabbath meal) because it is then that Torah scholars are engrossed in their learning and leitzim (scoffers) are engrossed in their loshon hora. We should be extremely careful with whom we associate because this will have a major impact on our lives.