Monday, August 8, 2011

In Private and in Public

The Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, gives an excellent parable to encourage us to stay away from groups of people who indulge in lashon hara. “Imagine if ten people were once sitting together when the police rushed in and arrested one of them for some serious crimes. To their chagrin they are also taken in for questioning since they are obviously friendly with the criminal.
‘”When, after enduring hours of grueling interrogation, they are finally freed, you can be certain that they will be very careful to avoid being in the company of someone they even remotely suspect is a criminal. Why should they suffer for another’s misdemeanors?
“Similarly, when we are drawn to join a group of baalei lashon hara, we must consider the immense losses endured by a member of such a group. Very often there are one or two people who love to gossip and share all the lashon hara they can gather. But surely every person who is part of this group will suffer for being present during the sins of these unfortunate souls! We must internalize this fact and use it to resist the pull of time spent listening to lashon hara. Surely we have enough sins of our own to deal with in the next world; why should we accept even partial liability for another’s sins?”
On another occasion, the Chofetz Chaim explained the vast damage caused even by lashon hara told over in private. “If you want to send a letter to someone you may hardly know, you must first find out his correct address. Then you need to write the letter and send it. Some letters never reach the intended parties since people sometimes change addresses.
“But when one speaks slander, even in private, about someone he may not even know, the damage is virtually guaranteed. He may not have said the name, merely hinted at it, and he may not know his exact address but he can be sure that his slander will eventually reach the subject. Such is the power of slander!”

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