In the first chapter of Sefer Chofetz Chaim, some common myths concerning loshon hora are shattered.
The Chofetz Chaim begins by correcting the single biggest misconception, a point so crucial that it is expressed in the chapter’s very first words: It is forbidden to relate derogatory information about a person even if the information is true. The Chofetz Chaim continues: Our Sages, of blessed memory, define this activity as loshon hora. The recounting of true derogatory information about another is the classic case of loshon hora.
Each of us can recall a conversation in which someone told us loshon hora. If we could probe the mind of the speaker and study his rationale in relating something derogatory about a fellow Jew, we would likely find that he felt justified in repeating it since the information was true. If we were to suggest to the speaker that this is loshon hora, nine times out of ten he would respond, “But it’s true.”
Now, if this derogatory information were about the speaker’s brother, father, son or daughter, he would surely be much more reluctant to share it with us. The justification that “it’s true” would be overshadowed by the natural protective feeling we have for people whom we love.
The Chofetz Chaim begins his sefer by telling us, “It does not matter if it is true.” Hashem wants us to be as protective of every Jew’s reputation as if he or she were our own brother or sister. Just as one would be loathe to spread negative information about one’s sister or brother, regardless of the fact that the information is true, so too, should we be loathe to spread negative information about any Jew.
Once again, the Chofetz Chaim cites the negative commandment “You shall not go as a peddler of gossip among your people” (Vayikra 19:16), for this is the primary verse which prohibits speaking loshon hora.
The Chofetz Chaim paints the picture of a peddler with a sack slung over his shoulder. But instead of fruit or clothing, this sack contains negative information. The speaker of loshon hora is a peddler, who travels from person to person distributing his sinful wares. Though we don’t see ourselves as “peddlers,” almost any conversation containing loshon hora is one in which one person “delivers” to another,
negative information that he is carrying within his mind.
One of the main reasons why loshon hora is so despicable in the eyes of Hashem is because filling one’s mind with negative information and peddling it to others is a lowly act, and Hashem does not want Jews to act in a lowly way.