SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Hilchos Lashon Hara 3:3-4
It was the funniest thing. You see, Dovy really is the world’s most absent-minded fellow. One morning he was halfway to yeshivah when someone asked him where he was taking that big bag of garbage. That’s when he realized that the bag he had taken out of the kitchen trash can was still in his hand! He had totally forgotten that he was carrying it!
“Another time, he traveled to the Bronx by car and took the subway home because he forgot that he had driven there! He had to go all the way back to the Bronx by train in order to get his car.
“I’m not trying to make fun of Dovy — really, I’m not. I happen to like him a lot. But these stories are so very amusing, I couldn’t resist repeating them.”
The Chofetz Chaim states:
Take note of how all-encompassing is the sin of lashon hara. Even if one does not speak out of hatred and his intention is not to belittle the person, but rather, he speaks in a joking, light-headed way, nevertheless, since his words are in fact belittling, this is forbidden by the Torah.
There is nothing wrong with having a sense of humor. To the contrary, a sense of humor can be of great benefit to oneself and to others who enjoy listening to the humor. In fact, the Gemara relates that Eliyahu HaNavi would often appear to R’ Beroka of Chozai. Once, R’ Beroka asked Eliyahu: “Is there anyone in this marketplace who is destined for the World to Come?” Eliyahu motioned to two individuals who had just entered the marketplace.
R’ Beroka approached them and asked, “What do you do?”
They replied, “We are comedians and we go to cheer up those who are depressed.”
Yes, humor certainly can be beneficial, but not when it is used to poke fun at others.
Talmud Yerushalmi relates a rather sad story. There was a time when a non-Jewish government required all Jewish men to report for government service. One Jew, a man named Bar Chuvtza, decided to take his chances and not report. His absence was not noticed by government officials, but a couple of Jewish men who had reported for work did realize that Bar Chuvtza was absent. Apparently, they were bothered by the fact that they had to work while this fellow was back home going about his regular routine. They did not want to report him outright, but they did want to somehow make the officials realize that he was missing. So they hit upon a plan …
In the presence of an official, one Jew called to the other, “So what are we going to eat today?” His comrade replied, “We’ll eat choveitz,” which was a type of lentil. Hearing the word “choveitz,” the official said, “Choveitz … hey, that reminds me of something … yes, Bar Chuvtza — where is that Jew?”
Upon learning of this incident, Rav Yochanan commented on what the two Jews had done: “This is hidden lashon hara.”
Regarding lashon hara, there is no difference if the person’s name is mentioned or if it can be deduced through hints, gestures, or other means. If someone makes a statement that is either derogatory or can cause the person harm, and people can deduce whom he is speaking about, then it is lashon hara.
IN A NUTSHELL
Lashon hara is forbidden even when one’s intention is to be humorous and not to malign.
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