28 - Lashon Hara and Rechilus part 1

Lashon hara includes any statement that would bring disgrace to the subject, such as speaking about the reprehensible conduct of his family or ancestors, his own past misdeeds, or sins he has committed.

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Taking A Deeper Look - Lesson #28


LASHON HARA AND RECHILUS - לשון הרע ורכילות

PART 1 –  Centrality of the Mitzva


The mitzva of “Lo saylaych rachil b’amecha-do not be a gossip-monger among your people”, includes several prohibitions:  1) lashon hara-speaking derogatorily about someone, even if what you’re saying is true; 2) motzi shaym ra-giving a person a bad name by saying derogatory things about them that are not true; 3) rechilus-peddling gossip-going from one person to another saying, “Reuven told me this” or “I heard such and such from Shimon.”

Lashon hara includes any statement that would bring disgrace to the subject, such as speaking about the reprehensible conduct of his family or ancestors, his own past misdeeds, or aveiros he has committed.  Also prohibited would be to speak of his bad attributes, to imply that he is lacking in intelligence, talent, strength or wealth, or to point out his unwillingness to do favors for others.  

Even if the speaker intends no harm, and even if he is speaking the absolute truth and the subject himself would not deny the truth of the words, the lashon hara may still not be said, because Hashem would does not want his children to disparage one another. 

Rechilus is violated when Reuven goes to Shimon and reports to him what Levi said about him or did against him, with the potential result of bad feelings being incurred between Shimon and Levi.  This is true even if the report is true, and even if the report contains nothing derogatory and Levi himself would not deny it, or even think it to be positive.

It is prohibited to speak lashon hara or rechilus about any Jew, in his presence or not.  Regarding children, we may not speak about them if harm could result from our words, or if they are old enough to be hurt or embarrassed by what is being said.  As to speaking about relatives, the prohibition includes talking about one’s spouse and children, even though in close family circles people tend to be forgiving about light remarks that were made without any malicious intent.  

(Excerpted from The Code of Jewish Conduct by Rabbi Yitzchok Silver)

Story(based on a true story)

“Menashe’s really loving his new school,” I remarked to my two neighbors as we sat in lawn chairs watching the kids scramble over my swing set in their Shabbos best.  It was a month into the school year, and after the craziness of the Yamim Tovim we were finally sitting down and discussing our childrens’ beginnings.  Leah had been a confidante through my journey toward putting Chaim in a different school than where he’d gone to preschool, in search of a program that would really understand my little boy and match his needs.

“That’s fabulous,” Leah responded.  “I know you were worried about how he’d take it.”

“Yeah, we can’t say enough about Toras Emuna and the rebbeim there.”

“Wait, what?” asked Shaindy.  “You decided to send Menashe to Toras Emuna?”

“Yeah, it’s a nice match for him.  It was a big decision, but we’re happy with it.”

“Wow,” Shaindy continued.  “Aren’t you worried?”

“Not really, just a little nervous,” I answered.  “It’s a change from M’or Simcha we all know and love, but we’re learning the ropes, and Menashe is doing really well so far.”

“Not exactly what I meant,” continued Shaindy.  “The kids there, the families...Aren’t you worried about the influence?”

And here we go, I thought.  I had been hearing this a lot.  Most of my circle sent to M’or Simcha.  So many local families sent there that people often forgot that there were other good schools around.  I forgot, until we saw that M’or Simcha wasn’t working for Menashe and found Toras Emuna.  

“Not really, we’re good,” I answered, trying to put my thoughts together.  If I said anything too nice, like, ‘Everyone there is wonderful’, Shaindy would probably come back with a negative against it.  So I kept it level. 

“You know they have other types of families there,” she continued.  “Menashe will hear about things and bring them home.  And if he’s strong and doesn’t participate in the discussions about these things, he’ll be left out and won’t make friends.”

Lovely.  We’d actually considered all of this.  There was a more diverse student body at Toras Emuna, but, in the end, we saw it as a potential positive, especially since we really needed to send Menashe there for other reasons, including their resource program.  

“We discussed it with our Rav,” I answered, desperate to end the conversation.  “It’s a school that has a lot of positives that people don’t necessarily think or know about.  But thanks for your concern.”  Then I got up to help one of my kids on the monkey bars. 

A little later, I pulled Shaindy off to the side when Leah went home for a minute.  I had some things I needed to say.

“This was not a light decision,” I said firmly, “and it’s a decision we have already made.  I understand that you are worried, but I can’t see how what you’ve told me is l’to’eles since Menashe is already there.  And, even if we did need to know this information, maybe you could say it differently.

Shaindy looked flustered.  “But we all know this stuff!” she said.  

“First of all,” I wanted to say, “the fact that ‘we all know’ something doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true.  It means that the people we tend to talk to say it.  Of course we needed to look at it in decision-making, but we couldn’t believe information without checking.  There’s a wonderful learning program in Toras Emuna that a lot of people don’t know about.  And even with things that are true, there are some pretty complicated laws about whether we’re allowed to say them or not, when, and how.  We can’t slander an entire educational institution.  If I need your opinion about something in order to make a decision, I will come and ask for it and tell you why.”  

What I did say, instead of this big speech, was, “After looking into it, we know more than we did before. And it can be hard when people say negative things about your kid’s school.”

“I hear you,” was her answer.  

I took out my frustrations on the dishes that night, finally scrubbing the pot in the back of my cabinet completely clean of black.  I at least hoped I bore the brunt of this attitude instead of Menashe.  If parents spoke this way about a school in their home, would their kids be far behind?  And if Menashe started hearing it, he might stop liking his school.  

I didn’t want to hear anymore.  But I knew there would be more, and I didn’t know how to stop it.

Discussion Question Options:

In what situations are we most likely to speak lashon hara and feel that it is justified?

Are we more likely to speak lashon hara to our close friends or to strangers?  Rechilus?  Why?

In what way are lashon hara and rechilus inherently connected to ahavas yisrael?  How does not speaking lashon hara improve ahavas yisrael, and how does improved ahavas yisrael help us not to speak lashon hara?

Stretch of the Week:

Stop yourself when you’re about to speak negatively about a community institution.


Stretch Of The Week