Avoiding Lashon Hora like the Devil
Taste of Talmud
There is an interesting exception to the laws of L’shon Hora (evil speech) that has its source in Talmud Yerushalmi (Peah 4b). The Talmud quotes the prophet Nathan who told Batsheva to go before King David to inform him of the treasonous crowning of Adonia, a rival brother to her son Solomon. Nathan says, “I will come after you” and validate your words. The Yerushalmi derives from here that L’shon Hora may be spoken about Baalei Machlokes, those promulgating dispute and dissension. If this is true, then there is a difficulty with a proof brought in Talmud Bavli (Moed Kattan 16a). The Talmud says there that it is not L’shon Hora for a messenger of the court to convey the disrespectful remarks made by a litigant. This is derived from the fact that the messenger of Moses was allowed to tell Moses what Korach had said. Rabbi Akiva Eiger asks, “How does this prove the principle regarding a messenger of the court? According to the Yerushalmi, it would have been permitted for anyone to speak L’shon Hora about Korach, because he was the archetypical promulgator of dispute and dissension!?”
Taste of Halacha
The Rambam and the Rosh do not make any exception with regards to speaking L’shon Hora about a Baal Machlokes. The Smag (Sefer Mitzvos HaGadol) and the Hagahos Maimoni quote the Yerushalmi in the first chapter of Peah, as a source for the leniency to speak L’shon Hora about Baalei Machlokes. The Chofetz Chaim, in his seminal work on the laws of L’shon Hora, 8:8, records this exception with some important caveats. In the Be’er Mayim Chayim 16 and 17 (ibid.), the Chofetz Chaim explains that there is really no discrepancy between these sources. When the Yerushalmi said that it is permissible, it is only in very specific situations, similar to that of Batsheva and Nathan. In that instance, the words being said were able to inform King David and allow him to resolve the dispute. We can therefore only apply this leniency to saying words that have the ability to resolve a dispute. This is the way Rabbi Akiva Eiger resolves his question on Tractate Moed Katan. In the case of Korach, the words being conveyed to Moses were not going to diffuse the Machlokes therefore the only reason the messenger was permitted to convey the message back to Moses is because he was a messenger of the court. This also explains why the Rambam and Rosh did not bring this exception, because it is very rare for this to be the case. The Chofetz Chaim however records the leniency of speaking L’shon Hora about Baalei Machlokes because he includes the important caveat that these words must be able to diffuse the tension between the warring parties.
Taste of Parasha
Metzora, the name for one who is stricken with Biblical Leprosy is an abbreviation for Motzi-Ra, one who spews evil. The numerical value of “Tzora’as” is the same as that of the words telling us the nature of the sin for which it comes, “Al L’shon Hora” (on evil speech). However, this is only one of the seven different sins that the Talmud (Arachin 16a) teaches us are punishable with Tzora’as. Why then is the name Tzora’as so intertwined with L’shon Hora? The Talmud Yerushalmi (Peah 4a) points out that even though in regard to other sins it says the sin is “great”, in regards to the sin of L’shon Hora, the Torah deems the person to have done “Gedolos”, (“great” things) in the plural. The nature of L’shon Hora is that it causes harm many times over. It brings devastation and ruin to the speaker, the person about whom it was said, and also to those who believed the L’shon Hora. We could spare ourselves from much harm by being as careful with what comes out of our mouths as we are with what enters it. May Hashem save us from these sins and may we all only speak words of kindness, words that build, words that heal, and words that will bring Moshiach speedily in our days. Amen!