SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM
Preface: Negative Commandments
Flattery will get you nowhere” is how the saying goes. In this segment, the Chofetz Chaim teaches us that flattery can, in fact, accomplish a lot — in the negative column.
Mr. Degelman has applied for a job in a thriving company owned by Mr. Stern. It is a prominent,high-paying job, and Mr. Degelman wants it very badly.
One day as he is walking out of shul, he overhears Mr. Stern mention that he is not on speaking terms with Mr. Rothberg because of a financial disagreement. “Ah,” Mr. Degelman says to himself, “this is the opportunity I’ve been waiting for.” He approaches Mr. Stern and says, “You know, not many people are aware of this, but I happen to know that a couple of weeks ago, Rothberg made a major blunder in the investment market and is still trying to recoup his losses.”
“Is that so?” Mr. Stern responds. “Serves him right, that good-for-nothing. And I wonder if his losses have anything to do with his cheating me.Thanks for the information.”
The Torah states,”and you shall not flatter the land.” According to some Rishonim (Early Commentators), this verse forbids false flattery. In our example, Mr. Degelman has engaged in flattery to win favor with Mr. Stern.
If Mr. Degelman had acted according to the Torah, he would have tried to find a way to make peace between the two men. Or, says the Chofetz Chaim, he might have gently attempted to explain the tragedy of machlokes (strife) to Mr. Stern. Instead, he spoke lashon hara and possibly added fuel to the fire by giving Mr. Stern new reason to think he was cheated.
Mr. Degelman’s real problem is a lack of emunah (faith in Hashem). If he truly believed that how much he earns and what job he holds is decreed in Heaven, he would not have engaged in such shameful behavior as a way of getting the position that he wanted so badly.
Sometimes, says the Chofetz Chaim, it is the listener of lashon hara who is guilty of flattery.
Stanley’s boss, Ben Walder, has just ended a business meeting with Chaim Bern, a member of Stanley’s shul. The meeting did not go well and Walder did not get the deal he had been hoping for. He is angry. Mr. Walder approaches Stanley and says, “I understand you know this Bern fellow — he’s been president of your shul for three straight years. How was he ever elected? He is the most miserable, stubborn, haughty person I’ve ever met! You know what I mean — right?”
Stanley smiles, meekly nods his head, and says, “Yes, yes, I know what you mean.” In his heart he is thinking, “The truth is that Chaim Bern is a very nice person; it’s for good reason that he’s been our shul president for the past three years. But I don’t want to get on my boss’s bad side. I have no choice but to agree with whatever he says.”
Of course, Stanley is absolutely wrong. He should have responded to his boss’s tirade by saying, “Sir, I don’t mean to be disrespectful and I certainly don’t want to anger you, but Chaim Bern really is a wonderful person.” It is possible that his boss would have sharply rebuked him— but that would have been a small price to pay for upholding the Torah. As our Sages teach, “Better to be called a fool all your life and not be considered wicked before Hashem even for an hour.”
At worst, Stanley would have been fired. A Jew is required to surrender all his money rather than transgress a single lo sa’seh (negative commandment). Yes, getting fired would have been difficult. But one must believe b’emunah shleimah (with perfect faith) that in the long run, one does not lose from fulfilling the will of Hashem
The Torah states, “Do not curse a deaf person. As Rashi teaches the Torah in fact forbids us to curse any Jew. If someone loses his temper at someone and in the process not only speaks lashon hara about him but also curses him, he has transgressed this sin as well.
IN A NUTSHELL
We must be on guard not to speak or listen to lashon hara as a means of gaining approval.
Speaking lashon hara can sometimes involve the lowly act of cursing another Jew.
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