web analytics
August 30, 2015 / 15 Elul, 5775
At a Glance
Judaism
Sponsored Post


Home » Judaism » Parsha »

If You’re Wrong, It’s Lashon Hara

The-Shmuz

“And Miriam and Aaron spoke about Moshe regarding the Kushis woman he took, for he took a Kushis woman.” – Bamidbar 12:1

Miriam spoke disparagingly about Moshe Rabbeinu. Because of this, she contracted tzaras, and for seven days she was sent outside the camp of Israel.

Rashi explains how these events unfolded. Miriam had been standing next to Moshe’s wife, Tziporah, when they heard that two men were prophesying in the camp. Tziporah exclaimed, “Woe to the wives of these men! Now their husbands will separate from them, as my husband did from me.” When Miriam heard this, she went to Aaron and said, “We are also prophets. We don’t separate from our spouses. Why should our brother Moshe be different?”

For this statement, Miriam was punished. Rashi concludes from this incident that if Miriam, who didn’t intend any harm to Moshe, was so severely rebuked, surely one who intends to disparage his friend will be punished.

This Rashi is difficult to understand. What was Miriam’s transgression? She witnessed her brother doing something that in her estimation was wrong. She didn’t go blabbing the news all over town. She went directly to spiritual giant, the Kohen Gadol, Moshe’s brother Aaron, to ask for his advice. If she was correct and Moshe was acting improperly, then Aaron would validate her assessment. If she was wrong, he would correct her. Her intentions were pure. Her actions were discreet. Where was her wrongdoing?

The answer to this question is based on understanding what the Torah considers slander. The Rambam explains that the definition of lashon hara is “Words that hurt, words that damage.” Whether damaging a man’s reputation, harming his career, or spoiling his standing in the community – they are words that cause harm.

There are, however, times when lashon hara is permitted. If someone speaks for a constructive purpose and that speech meets exact Torah guidelines, then it is a mitzvah. In that case, the report isn’t considered disparaging. Quite the opposite, since we are obligated to protect our fellow Jews from harm, sometimes we must inform others of what we know. But that is the point: Torah law defines what constitutes slander and what is a mitzvah. The line between the two is often very thin.

The Chofetz Chaim writes that for the telling of disparaging information to be permissible, a person must have first-hand knowledge of the facts, and there can be no room for misinterpretation or for error. If there is another possible explanation that shows the act in a different light, then he is forbidden to speak.

Miriam’s Transgression

This seems to be the answer to Rashi. Hashem rebuked Miriam and Aaron both, saying, “Why did you suspect my servant, Moshe? Moshe was on such a lofty level that you should have realized what he did was justified and proper. You should have judged him favorably. Because you judged him incorrectly, you mistook his intentions and determined his actions to be improper. He is my servant, loyal and obedient, pure and untainted. You should have realized that he is in a different league than any other man, and you should have judged him favorably.”

That was Miriam’s transgression. She miscalculated. Everything she did after that was correct, but it was all based on her error. Her mistake was in her initial assessment, which then led to her to slander her brother unintentionally. But unintentional slander is slander nevertheless.

This Rashi teaches us a vital concept. How many times do we hear people say, “This isn’t lashon hara; it’s l’toeles [for a constructive purpose],” or, “About a person like him, it’s a mitzvah to talk.” And they are correct. If according to the halacha this is “a constructive purpose,” or if by Torah standards this man is a rasha, then it is a mitzvah to repeat what happened. But if not, it’s a sin. And that’s the question – is it or isn’t it?

And so we have to ask ourselves how certain we are that what we’re saying meets the Torah’s definition of a “constructive purpose.” Do we know what the Torah’s requirements are to consider a person a rasha? And even more, how many times is our conclusion deeply colored by our own hurt feelings, or by a grudge that we bear, or some other bias blinding us to the truth?

Rashi is teaching us is that if we misjudge a situation and reach a conclusion that is unfounded, we may think that we are doing a mitzvah but in fact we will be held liable for slander. While our intentions might be pure, because of our lack of caution we could needlessly spoil a man’s reputation or damage his business or stop a shidduch, and we will then be liable for the harm. What we thought was a mitzvah was in fact an egregious sin. We wronged an innocent man, and that is something that we may never be able to repair.

About the Author: Rabbi Shafier is the founder of TheShmuz.com. The Shmuz is an engaging, motivating shiur that deals with real life issues. All of the Shmuzin are available free of charge at www.TheShmuz.com or on the Shmuz App for iphone or Android.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “If You’re Wrong, It’s Lashon Hara

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
Rabbi Norman Lamm of Yeshiva University
Emes Ve-Emunah: Living Up to the Ideals of Modern Orthodoxy
Latest Judaism Stories
Torat-Hakehillah-logo-NEW

The common translation of the opening words of this week’s parsha, Ki Seitzei, is: “When you go out to war against your enemy.” Actually the text reads “al oyvecha” upon your enemy. The Torah is saying that when Israel goes out to war, they will be over and above their enemy. The reason why Bnei […]

Rabbi Avi Weiss

The love between Gd & Israel is deeper than marriage; beyond the infinite love of parent for child

Q-A-Klass-logo

Question: When a stranger approaches a congregant in shul asking for tzedakah, should the congregant verify that the person’s need is genuine? Furthermore, what constitutes tzedakah? Is a donation to a synagogue, yeshiva, or hospital considered tzedakah?

Zvi Kirschner
(Via E-Mail)

Taste-of-Lomdus-logo

Since giving the machatzis hashekel will not change his financial situation, he is obligated to do so even though it is more than a fifth of his income.

Today, few people fast during the Days of Selichot, but the custom is to rise early to recite Selichot.

Each month is associated with a particular tribe. The month of Elul is matched up with Gad. What makes Gad unique?

Sanctions and indictment of the Jew, holding him to a higher standard, is as common and misplaced as ever.

To allow for free will, there are times when Hashem will allow a person the “opportunity to be the messenger.”

“There is a mitzvah to pay the worker on that day,” answered Mr. Lerner.

Be happy. Be grateful. God knows what he is doing. It is all happening for a reason.

We get so busy living our lives, handling our day-to-day little crises that we forget to go that one step deeper and appreciate our lives.

The promise for long life only comes from 2 commandments; What’s the connection between them?

Mighty Amalek deliberately attacked enemy’s weakest members, despicable even by ancient standards

If we parents fail to honor responsibilities then society’s children will pay the price for our sins

Consider how our Heavenly Father feels when He sees His children adopting all other parents but Him

More Articles from Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier
Shmuz-logo-NEW

To allow for free will, there are times when Hashem will allow a person the “opportunity to be the messenger.”

Shmuz-logo-NEW

Everything you see – from the flower to the bee, from the oceans to the mountains, rivers, planets, the sun, the moon and the stars – all just sort of happened.

“When Hashem…will broaden your boundary as He spoke to you, and you say, ‘I will eat meat,’ for you will have a desire to eat meat, to your heart’s entire desire you may eat meat.” – Devarim 12:20   For forty years in the midbar the Jewish people ate mon. Guided by Moshe Rabbeinu, engaged […]

The farmer understands he didn’t bring the rain. It wasn’t his acumen that stopped the pestilence.

Man has conflicting wishes and desires. Man has forces pulling him in competing directions.

On Super Bowl Sunday itself, life seems to stop. Over one hundred million people watch the game. About half of the households in the country show it in their living rooms and dens.

We are affected by our environment. Our perspective on the world is affected by what those around us do.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/if-youre-wrong-its-lashon-hara/2013/05/22/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: