SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Hilchos Lashon Hara 4:7-8
The legendary tzaddik Rabbi Aryeh Levin of Jerusalem once wished “Shabbat Shalom” to a non-observant Jew who was walking down the street smoking a cigarette. When the man responded angrily: “Who says that I’m Jewish?” R’ Aryeh replied, “You don’t understand. I love you like my own brother and that is why it pains me when I see that you are smoking on this holy day.”
The man immediately dropped the cigarette and said, “I am not prepared to say that I will keep the Shabbos from now on. But in your honor, Rabbi, I will not smoke for the rest of today.”
When we witness a Jew not living according to the Torah, we should emulate Rabbi Aryeh Levin. We should demonstrate our sincere love for the person and pray that he will come to realize the truth and beauty of Torah.
In Bircas HaTorah, we pray that all Jews should merit to experience the beauty and sweetness of Torah learning: Please, Hashem, our G-d, sweeten the words of Your Torah in our mouth and in the mouths of Your people, the House of Israel … Each morning, we pray that all Jews, whatever their connection to Torah is now, should come to recognize that Torah is sweet and “delicious” in an incomparable
Sadly, there are situations where someone who has drifted away from Torah will not respond kindly to the most gentle and respectful criticism — not from a rav, relative, or anyone else. In such cases, it may be permissible to tell others to avoid this person’s company so that he will not influence them in a negative way.
Friends have a powerful influence on one another. It is important that our friendships be with those with whom we can grow spiritually and not, G-d forbid, the opposite.
There is another instance when we would be allowed to publicize someone’s wayward behavior. When someone has sinned terribly and we know that Hashem will not remain silent in the face of such behavior, we are permitted to inform others so that when the person receives his Divine punishment, no one will question Hashem’s ways.
The Chofetz Chaim’s son, R’ Aryeh Leib, wrote the following:
In my father’s town, there lived a widow whose landlord was an unlearned man. Because she was poverty-stricken, she could not meet her rental payments. The landlord wanted to evict her, but she did not want to leave. What did the landlord do? He removed the roof from her house. The entire town was in an uproar over this wicked act, which took place during the winter! The landlord ignored everyone and sent the woman out at the height of the winter.
My father concluded his account with the following: “This incident was stored away in my heart and I waited. Many years passed and nothing happened. From time to time I thought to myself: ‘Can it be that what he did should just pass by smoothly, when Hakadosh Baruch said, “My wrath shall blaze … [against those who mistreat widows and orphans]?”’
“About ten years had passed when we heard the news that the landlord was bitten by a dog. A few days later, he began to make a barking sound like a dog. His illness lasted a few weeks, and he died.”
IN A NUTSHELL
We are permitted to publicize someone’s misdeeds so that others will avoid associating with him, or so that others will not question the Divine judgment against that person.
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