The Rambam defines lashon hara as words that hurt, words that damage, but the Rambam includes words that cause a person embarrassment. So if I tell a story about you and that story causes you embarrassment, that by definition makes it lashon hara even if the story itself is not necessarily derogatory. Even if it’s not something that other people would consider bad, those are words that hurt you, they damage you, they cause you embarrassment. So if I tell a number of people that story and eventually it gets back to you and that causes you embarrassment, that’s lashon hara.
Therefore, explains the Chafetz Chaim, there’s a very interesting question that comes about. Can you tell over that a person is a ba’al teshuvah? Now, for some people they would be very honored to be a ba’al teshuvah. It’s considered a tremendous accomplishment – look where that person came from, from 0 to 60 look at their growth, and they’d be quite proud of it. Some people might be embarrassed. So it 100 percent depends upon the person whom I’m speaking about. If the person I’m telling about would be proud, then obviously it’s not lashon hara.
If that person has something in his past that he’s embarrassed about, whether that he’s a ba’al teshuvah or whether he did certain things, whatever it may be, if those are things that would cause him embarrassment if they got out, if they were known, then it’s fully in the category of lashon hara. Even if there are things that he did when he was younger and he wasn’t as wise, even if there are things that he did and you and I may say well, that’s just childish things. But if those are things that he is embarrassed about, if I tell you eventually it can come back to him and cause him that embarrassment. And that by definition is lashon hara, because words that hurt him, even just by causing him embarrassment is lashon hara. Even though the people I tell it to don’t look down on him because of it. They may laugh and smirk. Since eventually it may get back to him and cause him embarrassment it’s considered lashon hara.
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