The Most Basic Rule

The Most Basic Rule

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  • January 31, 2019

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Hilchos Lashon Hara 1:1-2

The Chofetz Chaim begins the laws of lashon hara by pointing out a most common mistake. Some assume that one is guilty of speaking lashon hara only if he says something that is both derogatory and false.

This is wrong.

When the Torah says “Do not go as a gossipmonger among your people” it includes statements that are true. If the information is false, then it is classified not merely as lashon hara, but as hotza’as shem ra (slander), and the sin is much greater.

A Jew should never focus on the faults of his fellow Jew. Rather, he should look at others with a good eye, focusing on their qualities and ignoring their deficiencies.

This does not mean that we should be naïve and assume that everyone is perfect and can do no wrong. This would be foolish. As we have learned earlier, there is a mitzvah in the Torah of tochachah, to respectfully offer corrective criticism when we see others doing wrong. If the Torah wanted us to ignore others’ faults as if they did not exist, this mitzvah would be impossible.

To look at others with a good eye means to realize that there is so much good in every Jew, though we cannot always see the good. It means to understand that whatever the person has done wrong does not define who the person is. Shemiras halashon and the mitzvah of ahavas Yisrael, to love every Jew with an unconditional love, go hand in hand.

Therefore, we should not want to focus on the faults of others. And certainly we should not want to share such information with others.

When Rabbi Avraham Pam took ill towards the end of his life, he was visited by a man who heads a very important kiruv (outreach) organization. This man would consult with Rav Pam almost daily with questions on crucial issues. However, on this visit, seeing that Rav Pam appeared ill and weak, the man decided not to discuss “business.”

Instead, he entertained Rav Pam with true stories about Jews who had performed great acts of chesed in hidden ways so that their deeds would not gain them any recognition.

Rav Pam’s joy was obvious. When the man rose to leave, Rav Pam told him, “A father enjoys hearing good about his children. When you relate such wonderful stories about Jews, the Shechinah (Hashem’s Presence) comes to listen. I am confident that in this merit, I will get well.”

The Chofetz Chaim concludes this segment by noting that, as he has detailed in his preface, when someone speaks lashon hara, he is liable
to transgress many other sins in addition to the primary sin, Do not go as a gossipmonger among your people

Lashon hara is forbidden even when it is true.
Shemiras halashon and ahavas Yisrael go hand in hand.

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