If the world holds a person to be a great talmid chacham, a great Torah scholar and he really isn’t and I let people know about it, that is lashon hara because I damaged his reputation. Even if it’s true, I hurt him.
So too, explains the Chafetz Chaim, let’s say the world takes this person on to be extremely talented, a gifted piano player, a phenomenal artist, a great writer. If I tell you, “You should just know, he’s a good writer, he’s not the best.” “She’s okay at art; she’s not like a Picaso.” “He’s okay at the piano, but he’s not the next world pianist over here.” What I’ve done is I’ve taken that person down a notch. Automatically I’ve damaged them, and that is lashon hara. Even if it’s true, even if they’re not the world’s best, even if what I’m saying is correct, that’s exactly what makes it lashon hara. So the minute that I tell people that that person is not as great as you think he is, he’s not as honest as you think he is, he’s not as straight as you think he is, automatically that’s lashon hara.
Now, there are times when it’s permitted if it’s for a specific toeles, a specific purpose. If I know you might go into a business dealing with that person and you need to know he’s dishonest or you want to hire someone to play at a wedding and he’s not the greatest musician in the world, that’s l’toeles and there will be times when that is permitted. But assuming that it’s not for a specific purpose, it’s not for a positive reason and I’m just letting you know he’s not as great as you think he is, any of those types of expressions demean a person, take them down off the notch that people assume they were on and automatically by definition are included in lashon hara.
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