SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Hilchos Lashon Hara 4:1-2
You know, yesterday we had burgers and buns for lunch at school. I was shocked to see how Leah took her tray of food and sat down to eat without washing netilas yadayim! I saw it with my own eyes!”
It is forbidden to tell others that someone did not fulfill a mitzvah, including a mitzvah that is mid’Rabban (Rabbinic), such as the requirement that we wash our hands before eating bread.
As we have learned, it is wrong for a Jew to say anything derogatory about another Jew, even if it true. In our example, there are other factors that make it forbidden to relate the incident:
It is possible (though not probable) that Leah had already washed her hands and eaten a piece of bread during recess with the intention of continuing her meal during lunch. Or, her mind may have been preoccupied during lunchtime and she simply forgot to wash her hands. Part of being human is that we make mistakes.
One Friday night, one of the great tzaddikim of the previous generation recited the wrong berachah for Kiddush. When his family made him aware of his mistake, he said that he had been upset about something and this had caused him to err.
So when we see someone doing something that is forbidden by halachah, we should not be quick to condemn the person as an intentional sinner. In our example, a good friend could have approached Leah privately and said, “I hope that you don’t mind my asking, but is it possible that you forgot about netilas yadayim before you ate those buns?” If done privately and with obvious respect and concern, Leah would have been grateful, not angry.
There are certain halachos that many people tend to take lightly. For example, there are fine, sincere observant Jews who might engage in conversation during the chazzan’s repetition of Shemoneh Esrei, though the Shulchan Aruch speaks very forcefully against this practice.
It is forbidden to say, “Yesterday, in the middle of Minchah, Chaim told me that … ” The fact that the speaker, unfortunately, does not consider conversing during Minchah a serious matter does not give him the right to mention it.
“He is very wealthy, but when it comes to tzedakah, he is not from the big givers.” This too is forbidden. Though the speaker is implying that the man gives tzedakah, he is also saying that he gives less than would be expected of him.
The Mishnah states that if one tells another Jew, “Remember how only a few years ago, you were eating treif (non-kosher food) and working on Shabbos,” he is guilty of ona’as devarim, causing hurt through words. If he tells someone, “Remember how only a few years ago, Yonatan was eating treif …” he is guilty of speaking lashon hara.
IN A NUTSHELL:
We should not mention the misdeeds of others, neither past nor present, major or minor, even if we are not ashamed to admit that we are guilty of the same.
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