SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM Hilchos Lashon Hara 4:12 – 5:1
Any time a Jew commits a sin, he is defying the will of Hashem. When he is ready to engage in teshuvah (repentance), he must embark on a three-part process:
1. Letting go of the sin and resolving not to repeat it in the future. Our Sages offer a parable of a person who immerses himself in a mikveh to purify himself from tumah and continues to hold a dead sheretz (creeping animal) — the cause of his tumah — in his hand! He can immerse himself all day and it will accomplish nothing. Until he lets go of the sheretz, he will not become purified.
Similarly, If someone sincerely wants to engage in teshuvah, his first step must be to stop committing that sin and to resolve not to repeat it in the future.
2. Regret – He must sincerely regret his sinful actions of the past.
3. Confession – He must confess his sin before Hashem.
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explained that the reason for confession is to ensure that the person will make a real effort to change. When we express with our lips what we have thought in our hearts, we are more likely to live up to it.
These three steps are required for any sin. When a sin is between man and his fellow, the sinner must also seek forgiveness. Speaking lashon hara is, of course, in this category of sin.
The Chofetz Chaim states: If a person speaks lashon hara and no one believes it, then he does not have to ask forgiveness, though he still needs to follow the three-step program outlined above for having sinned against Hashem. However, if even one person believed the lashon hara and this caused the victim emotional, physical, or financial harm, the speaker must ask forgiveness.
When a person has developed the terrible habit of speaking lashon hara regularly, it is virtually impossible for him to achieve complete teshuvah. How can he possibly recall all the people against whom he spoke? Even if he could recall them all, he will very likely be embarrassed to approach some of his victims. If his lashon hara did damage to an entire family and this affected the good name of later generations as well, this would make full repentance impossible.
This segment concludes with a word of caution: Just as it is forbidden to say that someone engages in conversation during davening, so it is forbidden to say that he did not want to extend a loan to someone. Mitzvos that are between man and Hashem and mitzvos between man and his fellow are equally important. To say that someone went against any sort of mitzvah is forbidden.
And surely, it is forbidden to say, “Yosef refused to extend a loan to me.” In this case, aside from the sin of lashon hara, the speaker is guilty of bearing a grudge, which is also forbidden by the Torah.
IN A NUTSHELL
Teshuvah for speaking lashon hara often requires seeking forgiveness from the subject.
-A project of Mesorah Publications –