Day 65

Chofetz Chaim: A Lesson A Day

Day 65 : Loshon Hora: Toeles - Helping the Victim
Taking The Law Into One's Hands

2 July



We have seen that it is permissible for a beis din, rabbinical

court, to use certain forms of social pressure to persuade an

individual to abide by its ruling. However, it is forbidden to use

social pressure in order to bypass the court process and force a

thief to return what he stole. It is wrong to cause the community

to take a stand in a monetary issue on the basis of an individual's

word alone; only through the psak (ruling) of a beis din may the

community take a stand. Thus, it is correct to ensure that the

parties come before a beis din, but it is forbidden to personally

orchestrate the enforcement of what one believes to be justice.108


The following segment is a translation from the Chofetz Chaim's writings on the philosophy of proper speech from the Sefer Shmiras Halashon.

A Swindler Comes to Town

People who speak loshon hora tend to rationalize their sinful

behavior with the contention that the listener wanted to hear the gossip

and that he obviously enjoyed it. Moreover, the two remained good friends

after their discussion. Could one really be guilty of causing his listener

harm when he obviously had such a good time? The fallacy of such thinking

can be explained with the following parable:

A swindler came to a certain town and disguised himself as a respected

leader of the community. When a visitor arrived in the town, the swindler

welcomed him like an old friend and invited him to a local inn where the

two could enjoy each other's company. At the inn, the swindler said, "It's

been so many years since the last time we saw one another. My joy is

indescribable. This calls for a celebration! Please, go to the counter and

tell the manager to serve us the very best of everything he has to offer!

Of course, I'll pay the bill.

The two wined and dined until they had both eaten more than their fill. At

that point, the swindler slipped out the door, leaving his "guest" with the

enormous bill to pay. The poor fellow explained to the manager what had

transpired, but to no avail. "All I know,' said the manager, "is that you

came to the counter and ordered all that food and drink. Whatever happened

between you and that other fellow is of no concern to me. Pay up!

One who listens to loshon hora is like the visitor in our parable.

The listener is happy and feels no enmity toward the speaker, who seems to

be entertaining him free of charge. The listener sees the speaker as his dear

confidant, who tells him private information that he might not divulge to

others. But all this is only on this world, while "the shop is open, and the

Merchant extends credit" (Avos 3:20). In the next world, however, where "the

ledger is open ... and the collectors make their rounds,' one will have to

stand judgment for having listened to and accepted forbidden talk. Every word

that he listened to will be recorded there, and he will have to pay a very heavy price.