Why Ignorance of the Law Is Not an Excuse

Why Ignorance of the Law Is Not an Excuse

By Daily Companion | Based on The SH Yomi Calendar No Comments
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  • December 29, 2016

The Chofetz Chaim continues to discuss the structure of his classic work. “And I beseech you, dear reader, if you come across something in my sefer (book) that at first glance appears to be an extra stringency or something that could have been explained in fewer words, do not be quick to decide that it was a mistake.

“Study the matter well in Be’er Mayim Chaim, because there is important information there and you must understand the halachah in its entirety. In truth, each and every halachah in this sefer was pondered in great depth; I discussed the subject matter with friends who are gedolei Torah (great Torah scholars) and I carefully cross-referenced Talmudic sources to check for any contradictions. I am hopeful that one who takes my words to heart and studies these halachos (Torah laws) in depth, will recognize clearly that every word in this sefer is written exactly according to halachah: no more, no less.”

The Chofetz Chaim continues, “I know that there are people whose habit is to downgrade others and speak much loshon hora. Such people will read my sefer to find leniencies that I might have written. They will not study the Be’er Mayim Chaim and they will come to permit things that I never intended to permit. They will use my sefer to speak loshon hora and will tell people that Sefer Chofetz Chaim permits it! Nevertheless, I did not refrain from writing this sefer because of people who would misuse it, because the Torah says, ’For the ways of Hashem are straight; the righteous will walk in them and sinners will stumble over them (Hoshea 14:10).’”

“And I certainly know that there will be people who will make light of the value of studying this sefer and they will defend themselves with the Sages’ teaching, ‘Better that they should sin out of ignorance than intentionally.’ This is incorrect for two reasons. The above teaching does not apply regarding a halachah that is clearly stated in the Torah — and the laws pertaining to loshon hora are clearly spelled out in the Torah.

“Furthermore, according to this [misguided] reasoning, we should not teach people the laws of Shabbos or robbery which are also difficult to keep!” In reality, we know that these laws can be observed by everyone, for Hashem, who created man and knows his abilities, gave us these laws. Were they beyond man’s capabilities, Hashem would not have imposed them on us. The Chofetz Chaim adds, “You will find that the study of these laws will make you more aware of loshon hora so that even if, G-d forbid, you should stumble, you will at least not be in the category of a baal loshon hora, a habitual speaker of loshon hora, whom our Sages say (Arachin 15b) will not merit to greet the Shechinah (Divine Presence).”

The Chofetz Chaim concludes his foreword explaining why he opens his sefer by detailing all the positive and negative commandments that relate to loshon hora. “The study of these commandments and related teachings of Chazal will help the reader to realize the severity of this sin and the damage that words can cause and will certainly weaken one’s inclination to sin.”

The Chofetz Chaim continues, “The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 14, 4) states that if one studies a subject intensely, Hashem removes the yetzer hora (evil inclination) from him with regard to that subject. I therefore said to myself, that if a person will study this sefer and ponder what is written here, his inclination for loshon hora will be weakened. He will begin to draw away from this sin and in the course of time, he will see that he can withdraw completely from speaking loshon hora, because to a great extent, this sin is the result of habit.”

“He who comes to purify himself is granted Heavenly assistance” (Yoma 38b). In merit of our efforts regarding shmiras haloshon, the Chofetz Chaim concludes, we will be worthy of the Final Redemption.