Harmony of a Nation - Overcoming Baseless Hatred (part 6 and series finale)
Preventing Baseless Hatred by Avoiding Lashon Hara and Rechilut
Lashon hara and rechilut are two transgressions that are very closely related to sinat chinam. Often speaking or hearing lashon hara and rechilut (see below for definitions) leads to sinat chinam (baseless hatred) and, similarly, often sinat chinam leads one to speak or hear lashon hara and rechilut. In fact, the Chafetz Chaim explains that when the Gemara says the second Beit Hamikdash was destroyed because of sinat chinam, it was really referring to the combination of sinat chinam and lashon hara (see Introduction of Chafetz Chaim). Therefore, one way to eliminate sinat chinam and atone for the transgressions that caused the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash is by avoiding these two transgressions.
Lashon hara is speaking (or writing or any other way of conveying) or hearing (or reading or any other way of being conveyed to) a negative report about someone. Similarly any report that can cause harm or loss to someone else is also forbidden under the transgression of relating lashon hara (Chafetz Chaim, Lashon Hara 3:4). Rechilut is the act of speaking or hearing any kind of speech that will cause one to dislike someone else (Chafetz Chaim, Lashon Hara 1:1 and Be’er Mayim Chaim 4). Both lashon hara and rechilut are prohibited even if what is being said is true, and even if one did not have intention to harm (Lashon Hara 1:1, 3:3, Rechilut 1:3, 1:4).
While there are many examples and intricate halachot regarding lashon hara and rechilut, let us look at some often overlooked cases that directly stem from and/or contribute to sinat chinam.
Even If There Is No Intrinsic Defect Mentioned in the Speech
Rechilut is a prohibition one can transgress even if he didn’t say anything negative about his fellow. As long as one caused hatred between two people, he transgressed rechilut. Let’s look at a few examples.
Reuven goes to a store and selects merchandise to buy. He and the storeowner agree on a price, and Reuven asks the storeowner to set aside the merchandise for him until he goes home and brings the money. The storeowner, however, goes back on his word and sells the merchandise to Shimon without letting Shimon know that he had already set it aside for Reuven. It would be prohibited, at this point, for the storeowner to tell Reuven, when he returns, that he sold it to Shimon, even if the storeowner explains that Shimon had no idea that it was saved for someone else. Many people in Reuven’s shoes would feel hatred toward Shimon — even though Shimon did not actually do anything wrong. Therefore, by revealing Shimon’s identity to Reuven, the storeowner would actually be causing Reuven to hate him, which is rechilut (Chafetz Chaim, Rechilut 9:15, see also Chafetz Chaim, Rechilut 8:4 and Be’er Mayim Chaim there).
Before looking at the next case, it is important to point out that it is also prohibited to speak negatively about a store’s merchandise even though they are inanimate objects. Since the objects belong to someone, the negative words may cause the storeowner a business loss, and thus would be lashon hara (Chafetz Chaim, lashon hara 5:7, Chut Shani, lashon hara p. 356). However, if there is a constructive purpose in mentioning the flaws in a store’s merchandise, and if one follows the appropriate conditions that are mentioned in Sefer Chafetz Chaim (Lashon Hara, klal 10 and Rechilut, klal 9) — speaking negatively is permitted.
With this background, let’s look at a case where Reuven was interested in buying merchandise from Levi, and therefore asked Shimon about the quality of the merchandise that Levi sells. Shimon followed all the appropriate conditions necessary when there is a constructive purpose before speaking negatively about Levi’s merchandise, and told Reuven that Levi’s merchandise is not good quality. Even though Shimon did nothing wrong, it would be prohibited for Reuven to tell Levi that Shimon spoke negatively about his merchandise because it will cause Levi to hate Shimon, and would therefore be rechilut.
Even If He Already Knows
Let’s take a case where Reuven mistreated Shimon to his face. Levi, who was present when this happened, went over to Shimon and told him how horribly Reuven treated him. Levi told Shimon that he shouldn’t take it so lightly and that he should stand up for himself. In this case, even though Shimon knew exactly what Reuven had done, Levi was nevertheless guilty of rechilut (and possibly lashon hara in a case where he spoke about defects in Reuven’s character traits) because he caused Shimon to build up hatred towards Reuven (see Chafetz Chaim, rechilut 4:1).
This idea goes even further. Take a case where Reuven and Shimon had a bitter argument many years ago, which resulted in many ill feelings between them. If Levi would bring up the argument in order to restart the argument, he would be guilty of rechilut — because bringing it up again may reawaken feelings of hatred between Reuven and Shimon (see Chafetz Chaim, rechilut 1:10, 4:2).
Even If No Name Is Mentioned
Often, people are careful to hide the name of the one they are speaking about. However, this does not always solve the problem of lashon hara. It would be forbidden to speak negatively without mentioning someone’s name if it is clear from the storyline who is being spoken about, or if the listener may find out who was spoken about (see Chafetz Chaim, Lashon Hara 3:4). This happens very often, especially in cases where the one being spoken about lives in the neighborhood or if they have common friends, etc.
Another common case is where Reuven comes home from a hard day and describes to his wife how someone had wronged him, hiding the name of the one who wronged him to avoid lashon hara. His wife, wanting to validate her husband’s feelings, adds further reasons why Reuven’s friend acted horribly and how insensitive and irresponsible he must have been. Even though both parties did not mention the name of the person being spoken about, and even though Reuven’s wife doesn’t know the identity of the person who wronged Reuven, she is guilty of rechilut because she is causing Reuven to hate the other person. Even if Reuven already hated Shimon before his wife began to speak, it is still considered rechilut since the negative speech causes his hatred to increase (Chafetz Chaim, Rechilut 1:4). In our case, since she added more defects to Reuven’s character traits, it is also lashon hara because, even though she doesn’t know who is being spoken about, her husband does.
For a Constructive Purpose
It is important to point out that there are instances where one is even obligated to relate things to one’s fellow even if it involves something negative about his fellow, and even if it will cause further arguments. These include cases where there is a constructive purpose to the speech, such as when one sees that someone wants to date or marry someone, or if one wants to go into a partnership with someone, and he knows something negative about them that may change their decision to get married or go into the partnership. Even some of the cases we mentioned above may fall under this category, depending on the given situation. However, even in these cases there are many conditions that one needs to meet before being allowed to relate the information. Also, even when one is allowed to relate the information, there are many laws about what one is allowed to say as is outlined in the Sefer Chafetz Chaim (Lashon Hara, klal 10, Rechilut, klal 9 and Tziyurim at the end of the sefer).
Rebuilding the Beit Hamikdash
The question now is: How can one work on staying away from lashon hara and rechilut? So much of what is considered today as normal communication is filled with lashon hara and should be avoided at all costs. However, abstaining from speech altogether is impractical, and, at times, impossible. Even if it were possible, it wouldn’t help with regards to the sin of accepting lashon hara, and also wouldn’t help in situations when according to halacha one is obliged to share information. The only real way to deal with this critical issue is to constantly learn and review the Sefer Chafetz Chaim, which contains the laws of lashon hara and rechilut, so that one may know exactly what is and what is not allowed. This is the only way we can sensitize ourselves to an area in halacha that is unfortunately often overlooked. May we all merit making the right effort in this area, and help rebuild the Beit Hamikdash speedily in our days.
*Questions and comments can be sent to the author at firstname.lastname@example.org