SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Hilchos Lashon Hara 3:5-6
In this segment, the Chofetz Chaim says something that, at first glance, seems superfluous.
There are many other situations where baalei lashon hara [those who engage in lashon hara on a regular basis] speak in a deceitful way. They talk about others in an apparently innocent way, as if they have no idea that what they are saying is lashon hara; or that they had no idea that “So-and-so” was the perpetrator of the act of which they spoke [when, in fact, they were aware of this]. All such cases, and similar ones, are included under the term “lashon hara.”
Why did the Chofetz Chaim find it necessary to tell us that lashon hara spoken in a sly, misleading way is also lashon hara? Isn’t this obvious?
Perhaps the answer lies in a famous episode in the Torah. Yaakov Avinu arrives in Charan, and after a short stay at the home of his uncle, Lavan, he requests permission to marry Lavan’s daughter, Rachel. Yaakov asks to marry “Rachel, your daughter, the younger daughter.”
Why did Yaakov have to be so explicit? Why wasn’t it sufficient for him to tell Lavan “I would like to marry Rachel”?
Rashi provides the answer. Yaakov knew that his sly, cunning uncle could not be trusted. Therefore, it was necessary for him to spell out: “We are agreeing that I shall marry Rachel — and not any Rachel from the street but your daughter Rachel. And lest you decide to switch the names of your daughters without my knowledge and call your older daughter Rachel(and your younger daughter Leah), then let me make it clear — I want to marry Rachel your younger daughter.”
As we know, even these stipulations did not stop Lavan from switching Rachel with Leah.
Dealing with a Lavan is no simple matter.
Neither is dealing with the Satan.
A person is in the thick of conversation when he suddenly recalls a funny story about a friend, and in the back of his mind he thinks, “This might be lashon hara.” As he is talking, he needs to make a split-second decision as to whether or not he should relate the story. The Satan whispers in his ear, “Just say it casually, as if you have no idea it might be lashon hara.” Or, “Just leave out the person’s name — then it’s surely not lashon hara! Never mind that everyone will know about whom you’re speaking!”
So the Chofetz Chaim informs us, as Yaakov did to Lavan, in a way that should leave no room for doubt, “These are all cases of lashon hara — be on guard!”
This segment concludes with an important point about teshuvah for this sin. Even if lashon hara causes no harm at all to the subject, the speaker has committed a sin and needs to seek forgiveness of Hashem. This includes a situation where the listener responded, “Stop telling me such stories about Chaim. He’s a wonderful person and I don’t believe a word you’ve said about him.”
The speaker does not have to seek forgiveness of Chaim, since his evil words about him were not believed. But he does have to seek atonement from Hashem for having spoken lashon hara.
IN A NUTSHELL
We must be on guard against making statements that do not appear to be negative, when, in fact, they are.
Even if our listener refuses to accept our lashon hara, we must nevertheless seek Hashem’s forgiveness.
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