Sunday, September 29, 2013

Balancing the terror of Lashon Harah with Obligation to help others with negative information

This is a continuation of previous posts  Lashon harah revisited and Lashon harah and to'eles
Today we have a strong fear of the evil of speaking lashon harah - largely due to the efforts of the Chofetz Chaim. It is unfortunately true that in many common situations this fear does not stop us from speaking lashon harah - as the Chofetz Chaim himself points out. Nevertheless in many important situations this fear does prevent us from conveying negative information even though the Torah requires it.  There are people who marry when it is known the marriage can't work- because of personality, mental health issues or control issues. There are dishonest people given position of trust. There are child molesters who continue teaching. There are incompetent doctors and therapists who continue ruining their client's lives. There are rabbis and teachers who molest women and children. There are "investment specialists" who destroy the financial welfare of communities. No one speaks up to stop these negative consequences - either because the fear of saying lashon harah overwhelms the awareness of the obligation to say helpful negative information or it is used as a pious excuse to justify avoiding unpleasant and difficult situations..

My concern is not- chas v'shalom - to deny the reality that lashon harah is terrible but to provide a corrective balance in which the reality of the Torah requirement to convey negative information is reinforced and becomes possible. Not speaking lashon harah is as important as speaking negative information when the Torah requires it. They both are Torah requirements - and they are contained in the same Torah verse (Vayikra 19:16), Do not spread spread gossip amongst your people. Do not stand idly by the blood of your fellow. I am G-d. The first part is the prohibition of lashon harah. The second part is the obligation to help people even if it involves negative information.

To understand the fear, one needs to simply read the powerful introduction to the sefer Chofetz Chaim - translated in part below. It is clear that the Chofetz Chaim's goal is for people to stop talking about others. Therefore not only does he present the universally agreed upon sin of lashon harah, but he minimizes the permissibility of speaking negatively about others even when it is beneficial by placing additional conditions on speaking negative information. (This will be more fully discussed in future posts).

Additionally, while he reports the statements of Chazal without exaggeration -  one needs to understand the rabbinic style of dealing with sin. As the Rivash (171) and Rambam (Commentary to Mishna Sanhedrin Chapter 7) clearly state - the severity of sin is exaggerated by rabbis in order to get people to obey. In addition legitimate alternative lenient readings  are not presented or they are dismissed as minority views. So while this approach is typically helpful in normal situations, it causes problems when it prevents keeping the Torah obligation communicating negative information when appropriate. In short, it reinforces refraining from speaking at the expense of speaking up. More detailed discussion will be provided in future posts.

Chofetz Chaim (Introduction):... However at the end of the era of the Second Temple, there was significant increase in the amount of baseless hatred and lashon harah amongst us due to our many sins. Because of this the Temple was destroyed and we were exiled from our land as is stated in Yoma (9b) and Yerushalmi Yoma ( 1:5). Even though the gemora only mentions baseless hatred – it means also lashon harah which is a consequence of baseless hatred. Because if the gemora only meant baseless hatred - that would not have been reason for such severe punishment. We can also deduce that lashon harah was meant in addition to baseless hatred from the fact that the gemora concludes that we learn from the destruction of the Second Temple that baseless hatred is as severe as the combined punishments for idolatry, illicit sexual relations and murder. Such an equation is  explicitly stated in Arachin (15b) regarding lashon harah.[The School of R. Ishmael taught: Whoever speaks lashon harah increases his sins even up to [the degree of] the three [cardinal] sins: idolatry, incest, and the shedding of blood.]Furthermore a careful analysis of Yoma (9b) also demonstrates that lashon harah caused the destruction of the Second Temple. It first discusses the reasons for the destruction of the First Temple and then compares them to the reasons for the destruction of the Second Temple. It asks, "And didn't baseless hatred also exist in the era of the First Temple since it states that people would eat and drink together and then stab each other with their tongues?" [The gemora answers that in the First Temple it was done only by the princes but in the Second Temple it was done by all the people.] [Thus we see that the term baseless hatred is also used to describe lashon harah]. ... However the only reason for the continue exile is because of our many sins that prevent the Shechinah dwelling amongst us. When we carefully examine our ways to determine which sins are the basis for the extended exile we find there are many. However the misuse of language is by far the worst for many reasons. 1) Since it was the cause of exile in the first place as we saw from Yoma (9b) – as long as this sin isn't correct is is not possible for the Redemption to come. ...

1 comment :

  1. Had I read this article - or better, had it been available, several years ago, some serious errors could have been prevented, and some serious damage to persons would not have occurred. I must therefore wish you hatzlacha in publishing the new book.


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