SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM
Preface: Negative Commandments
Better that one throw himself into a fiery furnace rather than embarrass someone else in public.” To embarrass someone else is a most serious sin. In fact, Tosafos is of the opinion that a Jew is obligated to sacrifice his life, to die al kiddush Hashem, rather than embarrass another Jew in public (as the Gemara quoted above seems to indicate).
Unfortunately, there are times when we see one Jew embarrassing another. How can this be? How is it possible for an otherwise Torah-observant Jew to be guilty of one of the most serious sins in the Torah?
Rabbi Yisroel Chaim Kaplan was a revered tzaddik and the Mashgiach Ruchani of Beis Medrash Elyon in Monsey. One day, R’ Yisroel Chaim ran into the beis midrash and, with tears streaming down his cheeks, shouted, “I just saw a murder!” The students were momentarily frightened, until R’ Yisrael Chaim explained. “I just witnessed one student embarrassing another — that’s murder!”
The Manchester Rosh Yeshivah, Rabbi Yehudah Zev Segal, maintained that if children would be taught from their early youth that there are few things as terrible as embarrassing someone, they would be on guard against committing this sin.
If Reuven speaks lashon hara about Shimon in Shimon’s presence and this causes Shimon embarrassment, then Reuven has also transgressed the
Sin of, “… and do not bear a sin because of him”, which we learn that it is forbidden to embarrass someone even when correcting him for the wrong that he has done. If he has embarrassed him in public then he is in danger of forfeiting his share in the World to Come; teshuvah, which includes seeking forgiveness, is his only hope.
Another very severe sin is to cause pain to an orphan or widow, “You shall not cause pain to any widow or orphan.”This pasuk is followed by a frightening warning concerning those who are guilty of this sin. Rambam writes:
One must be careful regarding orphans and widows … as it is written, “You shall not cause pain to a widow or orphan.” And how should one act towards them? One should only speak gently to them, and treat them only with respect. One should not hurt their bodies through hard work, nor their hearts through [hurtful] words …
When someone speaks lashon hara about an orphan or widow in his or her presence, causing the person to feel hurt or embarrassed, he has transgressed this sin. Here, too, his only hope is to engage in sincere teshuvah and seek forgiveness.
IN A NUTSHELL
Speaking lashon hara can involve the very serious sin of embarrassing someone or causing pain to a widow or orphan.
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