SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Hilchos Lashon Hara 4:9-10
Rabbi Yisrael Salanter is reported to have said that it is easier to learn through half of Shas than to break a single bad midah (character trait). Changing our very nature can be quite difficult, but we must do it nonetheless. The Vilna Gaon wrote that the primary purpose of a Jew in this world is to refine his midos. Elsewhere, the Gaon wrote that if a person does not strive to improve his character, “for what purpose is he living?”
The great Jerusalem maggid Rabbi Sholom Schwadron was learning in a shul; sitting near him was a tzaddik who was known for his calm, quiet nature. When some children entered the shul and began to disturb those who were learning, the tzaddik said, “R’ Sholom, could you please ask the children to stop disturbing us?”
R’ Sholom replied, “Actually, they are not disturbing me. If they are disturbing you, why don’t you speak to them yourself?”
The tzaddik’s response shocked R’ Sholom: “But, R’ Sholom, how can I speak to them? Don’t you know that I am a ka’asan (hot-tempered person)? If I speak to them, I am liable to lose my temper!”
R’ Sholom later reflected: “I had known this tzaddik for years and had never seen him exhibit the slightest trace of anger. Obviously, what he meant was that by nature, he was hot-tempered. The fact that everyone knew him as quiet and mild-mannered was because throughout his life, he worked on uprooting this terrible midah. When these children were disturbing his learning, he feared that if they would not comply with his request, he might possibly become upset and lose his temper.”
The Chofetz Chaim says that to demonstrate bad midos is a great sin. Unfortunately, many people do not realize this. They know that it is not nice to be an angry, arrogant person, but they don’t consider such behavior to be forbidden. Perhaps if they would be made aware that such behavior is forbidden, they would make an effort to change.
It is forbidden to tell others that someone is often angry, arrogant, etc. The correct approach is to speak to the person privately about his behavior, thereby fulfilling the mitzvah “Rebuke your fellow Jew.”
However, the Chofetz Chaim notes an important exception to this rule, which we can explain with the following example:
Suri, a fine, good-natured girl, has been bringing home a friend who often displays arrogance, as she frequently ridicules others and focuses on their faults.
Suri’s mother would be allowed to tell her daughter to stop associating with this girl because of her negative behavior. However, she should tell her, “This would normally be lashon hara, but I am allowed to tell it to you now, because it is important for you to know.”
IN A NUTSHELL
Do not speak about a person’s negative midos, except when cautioning others to keep their distance from this person.
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