Day 166

Chofetz Chaim: A Lesson A Day

Day 166: Rechilus: Listening
Informing the Speaker

16 April



For one to listen to rechilus within the framework of halachah, it

is not sufficient that the listener be justified in paying

attention to the information being conveyed; the speaker, too, must

have constructive intent. If the speaker is unaware that the

information he is relating is of significance to the listener, then

he is guilty of speaking rechilus. The listener, then, is cause for

the speaker's transgression and has violated the prohibition

"Before a blind person do not place a stumbling block" (Vayikra

19:14), which prohibits one from causing another Jew to sin. Thus,

it is the responsibility of the listener to explain to the speaker

that the information is important for him to hear and is therefore

not considered gossip. If the speaker was already in the process of

relating the gossip to others when a person to whom the information

is relevant appeared on the scene, he would not be guilty of

causing the speaker to transgress. Even so, it is proper for the

listener to explain why he is listening, so that the others will

realize that he is not transgressing and that he considers their

non-constructive listening a sin.


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

The Waters of Torah

It is clear that through shmiras haloshon one saves himself from transgressing

thousands of sins each year -- literally. Moreover, in place of these potential

sins, one earns for himself thousands of merits. Let us suppose that a given

individual begins to exercise caution in matters of speech and thus refrains

from speaking (on the average) ten forbidden words per day which he otherwise

would have spoken. This means that each year he exercises self-control in not

expressing more than three thousand forbidden words. The Talmud states, "One

who sits and does not commit a sin is given reward equivalent to that of one

who performs a mitzvah" (Kiddushin 39b). Above, we have cited a Midrash quoted

by the Vilna Gaon that the reward for refraining from speaking the forbidden is

beyond the comprehension of angels. For one who has a fixed daily Torah study

session, the quality of shmiras haloshon can ensure that his learning is not

interrupted by idle chatter. Aside from the sin of speaking loshon hora, the

sin of bitul Torah, unwarranted disruption of Torah study, is most severe. To

disrupt one's Torah learning shows a lack of regard for this greatest of mitzvos

and causes one's learning to be fractured and lack the power and accomplishment

of continuous study. In the sphere of Torah study, a half hour plus a half hour

does not equal one hour. Torah study is a prime antidote against the impurity

wrought by sin, including that of loshon hora.

Sifre (Devarim 11:22) likens Torah study to the waters of a mikveh, which

purify. It follows then that just as the mikveh purifies from an impurity

which encompasses the entire person, so too does Torah purify even if one's

being is totally immersed in the morass of sin However, just as the mikveh

purifies only when there is no chatzitzah, interposition, between the person's

body and the water, so too can the purifying effects of Torah elevate the

person only when he is totally immersed in its study.