It’s known that the Chofetz Chaim believed that lashon hara, or evil speech, was the main cause of our long, bitter exile.
The Chofetz Chaim stated on more than one occasion that as soon as the sin of lashon hara was fixed, the exile would end and the Moshiach would come.
Rav Chaim Dovid Stern stated that ‘Rav Berland is the last test before Moshiach.’
What does this test involve?
Lashon hara, in all its many, soul-destroying forms!
How do we pass this test? By not engaging in any of the forms of evil speech that destroyed our Second Temple, and are keeping us in exile. Sadly, most of us don’t seem to realize how much of what we’re saying and doing, especially online, is directly contravening the laws of lashon hara in the worst ways.
So to fix that, I’ve put together this crash-course in Lashon Hara, based on the practical halachas contained in the book: Purity of Speech.
Basic background to Lashon Hara (evil speech)
Every time a person engages in Lashon Hara, they can transgress 17 negative and 14 positive mitzvot.
The Torah tells us we shouldn’t ‘peddle’ gossip to other people by passing on ‘juicy’ information – even when it’s true!
And that we also shouldn’t accept, or cause other people to accept, false reports.
These are mitzvot d’orayta, straight from the Torah.
THE DEFINITION OF LASHON HARA:
Lashon Hara is when someone speaks evilly about, or believes someone else’s evil report about another Jew. Specifically, the evil speech about another Jew does one of the following things:
- Degrades the other Jew in the eyes of other people
- Causes that other Jew shame
- Causes him financial loss.
AGAIN, THESE RULES APPLY EVEN WHEN THE INFORMATION IS TRUE. WHEN THE INFORMATION IS FALSE AND LIBELLOUS, THEN THE TRANSGRESSION IS MANY, MANY TIMES GREATER. AND WHEN THE PERSON BEING SPOKEN ABOUT IS A HOLY RABBI, THE SIN IS COMPOUNDED.
Many people think that if they’re just writing something on the internet, that’s not Lashon Hara. This is completely untrue. It’s just as forbidden to write negative information as it is to say it.
Also, if you write something anonymously, that still doesn’t get you off the hook. God knows exactly who you are, and you’re still accountable for what you wrote about another person, and any damage you might have done as a result.
Even if the information you’re passing along is well-known and already in the public domain, it’s still forbidden to talk about it.
RECHILUS, OR CAUSING HATRED TOWARDS A FELLOW JEW
There’s another category of Lashon Hara, or evil speech, that’s called Rechilus, which involves causing other people to hate another Jew.
THE DEFINITION OF RECHILUS IS:
Anything you say or write which causes people to start hating another Jew.
If what you’re saying / writing / passing along is going to cause someone else to have ill-feelings towards a particular Jew, or group of Jews, then that is rechilut, another very serious form of evil speech.
Even if you agree with the information, it’s still forbidden to repeat it.
HOW YOU FIX THE SINS OF TALKING LASHON HARA / RECHILUT
To make Teshuva for the sin of TALKING evilly about another Jew, you have to do the following:
- Regret doing it.
- Confess to Hashem that by repeating negative information about a fellow Jew to other people, you did a terrible sin.
- Take it upon yourself to work on your lashon hara problem, with the aim of not doing it ever again.
- Ask forgiveness from the person you spoke about.
If you don’t do these four things, you didn’t fix your sin, spiritually.
WHEN IS IT PERMISSIBLE TO TALK NEGATIVELY ABOUT A FELLOW JEW?
There are some, rare, instances when it’s not only permitted to talk negatively about a fellow Jew, but you are required to do so. (Before you jump off using this as a heter, please go and talk to a Rav who knows the detailed laws required. This is just a basic guide.)
You can degrade someone if:
- They are causing other people financial loss or physical harm, in some way
- They habitually speak lashon hara (evil speech) about others
- They are a ‘baal machloket’, i.e. someone who goes around deliberately causing trouble, strife and hatred between people.
- They consistently violate the laws ‘bein Adam l’makom’ – i.e., they don’t keep the Torah’s commandments between God and man, such as keeping Shabbat, kosher, family purity etc.
Even if they meet these criteria, you can only talk negatively about them if the following 5 conditions are met:
- The information has to be 100% true – and you need to have checked it out 100% to know that it is, and not just rely on other people’s information.
- You can’t exaggerate one iota.
- Your intention should be for a constructive purpose, and not just to get back at someone else or teach them a lesson
- If there is any other way of achieving the constructive purpose other than speaking evilly, you’re required to try that first.
- You have to evaluate your words very carefully, to figure out the potential impact on the person you’re talking about.
BELIEVING LASHON HARA
This is where it gets even more interesting, because in some ways BELIEVING lashon hara is even more problematic than speaking it. To give a common example, believing that story in the Jpost or on Arutz Sheva is just as big a sin as if you actually wrote it yourself.
It’s forbidden to:
- Listen to lashon hara (or read it online…)
- Believe lashon hara
- Perform an action based on the lashon hara – like pinging that juicy article across to another 5 people with the title ‘I’m not judging, but look at this…’
Plus, the halacha states that you have to rebuke the person who’s telling you the lashon hara.
THIS APPLIES EVEN IF THE INFORMATION IS TRUE, AND IF THE 5 CONDITIONS FOR GIVING OVER INFORMATION FOR A POSITIVE OUTCOME HAVE NOT BEEN MET. WHEN THE INFORMATION IS FALSE, THE GRAVITY OF THE SIN OF BELIEVING IT IS COMPOUNDED MANY TIMES OVER.
The only times it’s OK to listen to lashon hara is when:
- The information can directly affect you, or people who are very close to you in the future.
- Someone is unburdening themselves to you.
The only times it’s OK to believe lashon hara is when:
- It’s being said about a well-known rasha, or evil person
- When a trustworthy person is saying it for a constructive purpose
- When the conditions of ‘obvious signs’ are met:
- The obvious signs that the information is true should be directly related to what’s being discussed
- You’ve seen the ‘obvious signs’ that the information is true for yourself
- This information is going to directly affect you or impact you in some way.
SOMEONE IS ONLY CONSIDERED TO BE A ‘TRUSTWORTHY’ PERSON IN THESE CIRCUMSTANCES IF:
- They’re as trustworthy as two witnesses testifying before a Beit Din.
- They saw the negative behavior they’re talking about first hand.
And even when all these very difficult criteria are met, halacha still expects us to judge the person being spoken about favorably, especially if they’re a holy person.
A last, important, point to note is that it’s still forbidden to believe evil speech, even if it was repeated to you by a respected person, such as your rabbi, for example.
If all the conditions of passing information along l’toelet, for a positive purpose, as described above, have not been met by the ‘respected person’, then they are still transgressing the laws of lashon hara – and if you believe them and listen to them, and worse, pass the information on to others, than you are too.
HOW YOU FIX THE SIN OF BELIEVING LASHON HARA
To make Teshuva for the sin of BELIEVING evil things about another Jew, you have to do the following:
- Regret doing it.
- Confess to Hashem that by believing negative information about a fellow Jew, you did a terrible sin.
- You have to work on uprooting the negative impression the evil speech left on your psyche
- Take it upon yourself to work on your problem of believing lashon hara, with the aim of not doing it ever again.
IF YOU ALSO PASSED THE INFORMATION ON TO OTHER PEOPLE, THEN A FIFTH STEP IS ALSO REQUIRED:
- Ask forgiveness from the person you spoke about.
NB: The Chofetz Chaim describes a ‘baal rechilut’, one who repeats negative information about their fellow Jew, as a rasha, (evil person), because of the number of sins they transgress by speaking lashon hara.
PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS OF THESE LAWS TO THE SUBJECT OF DISCUSSING RAV BERLAND
- Read a negative story about Rav Berland someone online, you transgressed the laws pertaining to LISTENING to lashon hara. Really, it’s even forbidden to read that stuff.
- Believed the negative story that your read (or were told) about Rav Berland, than you also transgressed the laws of BELIEVING lashon hara.
- Passed that story on to others – even if you just emailed it on to someone else, or linked to it from your facebook page without making any other comment on it – you transgressed the laws of SPEAKING lashon hara, and you need to contact Rav Berland somehow to apologise for what you did.
- If you commented negatively about Rav Berland yourself, whether online or in person, including anything you wrote ‘anonymously’ – then you transgressed the laws of SPEAKING lashon hara and depending what you said, you might also be considered to be a ‘baal machloket’ (i.e. a rasha).
And you need to make some serious Teshuva, including contacting Rav Berland to apologise to him.
THE GROWTH IN THE THROAT
In case anyone thinks this stuff is being exaggerated, and it’s not such a big deal because ‘everyone’ is doing it, a man went to Rav Chaim Kanievsky a couple of years’ ago because the doctors told him he had a cancerous growth in his throat.
Rav Kanievsky told him that the growth had occurred because he’d spoken badly about Rav Berland. The man got on a plane to Morocco, where the Rav was then staying, to go and apologise in person to him, for what he’d said.
I’ve heard many other similar stories being reported to – where the person involved is now publicizing what they did, and what happened to them as a form of teshvua – so please, be VERY careful when discussing Rav Berland.
The honest position for most people is:
- To accept they don’t know anything about this matter.
- To rely on the opinions of our Gedolim, such as Rav Arush, Rav Kook Rav Stern, Rav Abuchatzeira, Rav Morgenstern etc – who have checked everything out according to the laws of Beit Din, and found Rav Berland 100% innocent of all charges (aka, emunat Tzaddikim).
- To keep their mouth firmly shut.
- To make any Teshuva they need to make for listening to / believing in / speaking lashon hara about Rav Berland ASAP.
Remember, Rav Berland is the last test before Moshiach.
And avoiding lashon hara and rechilut, as set out above, is the way we’re all going to pass it.