The Laws #1

Lashon Hara the Definition

“לֹא תֵלֵךְ רָכִיל בְּעַמֶּיךָ”, do not be a talebearer in your nation. This is the specific lo sa’aseh, the specific negative prohibition which includes the prohibition of lashon hara. The Rambam defines lashon hara as words that hurt, words that damage. If I tell over a story that is derogatory, that causes a person harm, whether it be harm to their reputation, harm to their financial position, causing them pain or embarrassment. Anything that is a story that are words that hurt a person is included in this category of lashon hara.

However, explains the Rambam, by definition it has to be a true story to be included in the prohibition of lashon hara. It has to be an event that actually happened; Reuven really did x, y, and z. If that story is negative, if it’s derogatory, if it damages his reputation, his standing, embarrasses him or whatever it does, that’s by definition what makes it lashon hara.

If that story is not correct, meaning if I made it up from a whole fabric, I made up the entire story or if I embellished it, then it’s even more prohibited. It’s something called motzi shem ra, but it’s actually not lashon hara. Lashon hara by definition has to be words that are true. If I shade the truth or if I make it up, it’s also a prohibition, it’s also included in “לֹא תֵלֵךְ רָכִיל בְּעַמֶּיךָ”, but it’s no longer called lashon hara. It’s called motzi shem ra and it’s at least as bad, potentially even worse. But again, there are two separate issues. Lashon hara by definition means true words, a true story that is derogatory, that hurts a person. Motzi shem ra means a false story that hurts a person. Both are included in this lo sa’aseh of “לֹא תֵלֵךְ רָכִיל בְּעַמֶּיךָ”, do not be a talebearer in your nation.

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