SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Hilchos Lashon Hara 1:7-9
When Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky, renowned as the Steipler Gaon, was 19 years old, he was drafted into the Russian Army. As a ben Torah in a very hostile environment, he faced many spiritual tests.
Once, his battalion passed by a church and the commander ordered all soldiers inside to pray. The Steipler respectfully told the officer that as a Jew, he could not comply with the order. The commander responded by ordering some soldiers to drag the Jew into the church by force.
As soon as the soldiers let go of him, the Steipler ran outside. When he was dragged in a second time, the results were the same. At that point, the furious commander ordered the “impudent Jew” to run the gauntlet. The young tzaddik was forced to run between two rows of soldiers who beat him on the head with clubs as he ran by.
In later years, the Steipler said, “Never did I experience such pleasure as when I was beaten for upholding the honor of Hashem and His Torah.”
Suffering embarrassment might not be as difficult as running the gauntlet, but it is difficult nonetheless. When someone suffers shame for refusing to participate in a lashon hara conversation, he should experience the kind of pleasure of which the Steipler spoke.
The Chofetz Chaim states:
If someone is sitting with a group that is engaged in forbidden conversation, and if he sits stony-faced and takes no part in their conversation they will think of him as insane, it is surely forbidden for him to join. It is of such situations that our Sages say: “Better for a person to be called a fool all his life, and not be wicked in the eyes of Hashem even for a short while.” He should gather all his spiritual strength at that time to stand firm. He should rest assured that his reward from Hashem will be without limit, as our Sages teach, “In proportion to the suffering is the reward.”
The Chofetz Chaim also cites the Midrash quoted by the Vilna Gaon in his famous letter: for every moment in which a person restrains himself and does not speak that which is forbidden, he merits a spiritual light that even the Heavenly angels cannot fathom.
The Chofetz Chaim concludes this segment by making us aware of some common mistakes:
To be guilty of lashon hara, it is not necessary to make fun of someone outright. We may not communicate negative information in any manner, including hints or body language, such as a wink behind someone’s back. It is also forbidden to communicate lashon hara in writing or to pass around a note or letter that makes the writer appear foolish.
“Last year, Rina and I pulled a mean trick on our math teacher. I know we shouldn’t have done it, but at the time, we just couldn’t resist.”
Speaking badly about oneself does not give one the right to speak badly about others. In our example, the fact that the speaker was not ashamed to speak about what she did to her teacher does not give her the right to mention Rina.
IN A NUTSHELL
We must resist the temptation to speak lashon hara to gain acceptance by others.
We may not speak lashon hara through hints, nor may we mention lashon hara about others by including ourselves.
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