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The Laws #13

Without Intention

The Chafetz Chaim tells us that it is forbidden to speak lashon hara even if I don’t intend that story to harm the person and even if I’m not saying it in any way that it should be derogatory. He gives a very famous example from the Gemara about Yehuda Ben Geirim.

The Gemara in Shabbos daf lamed-gimmel tells us that three great talmidei chachamim were sitting together, Reb Yehuda, Reb Yosi and Reb Shimon bar Yochai. Reb Yehuda said “Look at the wondrous things that the Roman government does. They build roads, they build marketplaces, they build bridges; look at the wondrous things they do for us.” Reb Yosi was quiet and Reb Shimon bar Yochai said, “What they do they do for themselves. They build roads to tax us, they build marketplaces for their own benefit; everything they do they do for themselves.”

In that group there was a gentleman named Yehuda ben Geirim. Apparently he was a ger. And he went and told over this event. He didn’t mean any harm by it, but he told over this event. This fact came to the Roman government’s attention and because of that they decreed that Reb Yehuda, who spoke well about the Roman government will be honored, Reb Yosi was silent and Reb Shimon bar Yochai is to be killed. And that’s in fact when Reb Shimon bar Yochai ran away. He ended up in the cave for many, many years.

The Chafetz Chaim brings this case as a classic example of lashon hara. Yehuda ben Geirim did not intend to harm these great talmidei chachamim. He certainly didn’t intend that Reb Shimon bar Yochai should become an exile. But the reality is he told a story and that story caused harm to that person. And says the Chafetz Chaim from here we see a proof that lashon hara is forbidden even if you didn’t intend to wrong a person, even if you didn’t intend to harm.

Now, obviously it has to have a certain likelihood. It can’t be something that’s so random and so far out of the realm of possible that you don’t have to think about it. But a person has to be very conscious and very aware if I tell a story, if I tell a fact and it could likely end up hurting that person, even if I don’t intend to, that would be lashon hara. And I have to be very careful about facts and things that I reveal about other people because in fact it may come to harm them, and if it does it’s lashon hara.

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