SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM
Preface: Positive Commandments
Rabbi Avraham Pam, one of the great Torah leaders of our day, was a legend in his time. He combined within himself all the good qualities one can seek in a human being. His kindness was without limit, his advice was very practical, clear and correct. He never veered from the truth and always walked the path of peace.
How does one define, in one sentence, the essence of this tzaddik?
Someone put it this way: Rav Pam’s heart beat with the qualities contained within the mitzvah, “And you shall go in His ways.” A Jew is commanded to emulate the ways of Hashem. In Sifrei’s words:He [Hashem] is merciful, so you should be merciful; He bestows kindness, so you should bestow kindness.
Rav Pam was so beloved because throughout his long life, he went in Hashem’s ways, relating to every person he met with kindness, empathy, and love.
When a person speaks lashon hara, he is not going in the ways of Hashem. Instead of showing love and spreading good will, he is causing harm and hurt. Therefore, he transgresses the mitzvah “And you shall go in His ways.”
The Chofetz Chaim cites the tragic episode of Achan in Sefer Yehoshua to illustrate how Hashem utterly detests lashon hara. Achan committed a terrible sin by secretly taking some of the spoils of war when the Jews conquered the city of Jericho. Because of this sin, Jewish soldiers fell in the very next battle. Hashem revealed to Yehoshua bin Nin that one man’s sins had caused these deaths, but He did not reveal the identity of the sinner. (Achan was later discovered through a Divinely directed lottery.) Our Sages relate that when Yehoshua asked the name of the sinner, Hashem replied, “Am I a talebearer [that I should reveal his name]? Cast a lottery [and let the sinner be identified through it].”
Of course, the goral (lottery) identified the sinner only because Hashem caused it to do so. Nevertheless, by refusing to identify Achan outright, Hashem was teaching the Jewish people how reluctant they should be to say something negative about anyone — even when the halachah requires that such statements be made l’to’eles (for a constructive purpose). Surely, to say something negative for no constructive reason should be detestable to all.
Whatever has been written thus far applies to lashon hara that is true. If the lashon hara is false, then it is classified as hotza’as shem ra (slander) and the sin is even worse. It is also a transgression of “Distance yourself from falsehood.”
The Chofetz Chaim has enumerated 17 negative commandments and 14 positive commandments that one can be guilty of when speaking lashon hara. Of course, it is impossible to transgress all of them at once. However, says the Chofetz Chaim, if someone is in the habit of speaking lashon hara, then over the course of time he will come to transgress all 31 of these mitzvos.
Not a very pleasant thought.
IN A NUTSHELL
One who speaks lashon hara is guilty of not going in Hashem’s ways.
When lashon hara is false,one has transgressed the mitzvah to distance oneself from falsehood.
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