SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM
Preface: Negative Commandments
In his famous Iggeres (Ethical Letter) to his son, Ramban writes that anavah, humility, is the greatest of all good midos, and that it leads to yiras Hashem, awe of Hashem. Being humble does not mean to think of oneself as a “nobody,” a failure. To the contrary, a person can be successful in life only if he has self-esteem and feels good about himself.
What, then, is anavah?
To be humble is to realize that whatever we accomplish in life is only through siyata diShmaya, help from Hashem. Without Hashem’s help, we are helpless, literally.
To be humble also means to realize that although we have accomplished many good things in our lives, we really do not know if we are achieving our potential. It is possible that we can accomplish so much more.
To be humble also means not to feel haughty just because we have been blessed with talent in any given area. A talent is a blessing from Hashem to be used in His service, not to make one feel superior to others.
Finally, to be humble means to realize that we are not perfect. No one is. So rather than focus only on our good qualities and feel proud, we should give “equal time” to our faults, recognize them, and work to correct them.
The Torah states, “And your heart will become haughty and you will forget Hashem, your G-d. Another verse states, “Be careful, lest you forget Hashem, your G-d.” By way of the first verse, the Gemara derives that the second verse is a negative commandment not to be haughty. The Chofetz Chaim draws the following conclusion:
Since the speaker of lashon hara belittles others, most probably he considers himself a wise, important person — for if he recognized his own faults, then why would he make fun of others? Thus, one who speaks lashon hara is guilty of arrogance and has transgressed this sin.
The Chofetz Chaim adds that when a person builds his own stature in the eyes of others by belittling someone else, then he certainly is guilty of this sin. Furthermore, our Sages teach us that this person loses his portion in the World to Come.
The Torah states, “… You shall not desecrate My holy Name…” This verse cautions us not to cause a chillul Hashem, desecration of Hashem’s Name, through our words or actions. The Chofetz Chaim says that when someone speaks lashon hara, he is guilty of chillul Hashem. In the Chofetz Chaim’s words:
As this [lashon hara] does not involve taavah (craving) or physical pleasure which can allow a person to be overcome by his desires, therefore, committing this sin is considered a sort of rebellion against Hashem and a casting off of the yoke of Heaven — and this is a chillul Hashem.
What exactly does the Chofetz Chaim mean? True, there is no physical pleasure in speaking lashon hara, but there is pleasure.
Don’t people enjoy telling others how someone did something utterly ridiculous? Doesn’t the speaker feel pleasure when his listeners roar with laughter and slap him on the back for telling a great story? Why, then, is this a chillul Hashem?
The answer may be that there is a great difference between this pleasure and the pleasure of, for example, eating non-kosher food. The desire to enjoy good food is something inborn. If someone has a craving for nonkosher food, we do not tell him, “Well, program yourself to look at this food as disgusting, and then you won’t want to eat it.” This will not work and, in fact, our Sages state clearly that one should not say, “Non-kosher food is despicable to me.” Rather, he should say, “I would like to eat it, but Hashem decreed that I should not.”
Lashon hara, however, is different. People are not born with a desire to speak lashon hara. They develop a desire for it because they choose to focus on others’ faults. Furthermore, a person who enjoys telling nega-tive stories about people can program himself to change his attitude. He can develop a feeling that making fun of others is something despicable. Rather than enjoying the good laugh he gets at someone else’s expense, he can learn to enjoy the pleasure of refraining from evil speech.
And if he does not make the effort to “reprogram,” then he has cast off the yoke of Hashem regarding this mitzvah and has been guilty of chillul Hashem.
IN A NUTSHELL
Speaking lashon hara is a sign of arrogance and is a chillul Hashem.
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