It is prohibited to speak lashon hara, in addition to which it is prohibited to accept lashon hara. But besides for those two there’s a third prohibition and that’s called listening to lashon hara. So if you come over and tell me a story you have violated a prohibition, you’re not allowed to tell the story. I’m not allowed to accept it to be true, but besides for the acceptance there’s the discrete, separate issur called shome’a, listening to lashon hara.
The exception with shemi’a is that there are times when I am allowed to listen to lashon hara. Explains the Chafetz Chaim, one of the occasions when it is permitted for me to listen is if it’s noge’a, if it’s applicable, to do some benefit.
So for instance let’s assume I’m entering into a business dealing or assuming I’m interested in a shidduch with a particular person. There it is permitted for me to listen to lashon hara, why? Because I’m not intending to harm the person, I’m not intending to hurt their reputation, and therefore it would be permitted.
Explains the Chafetz Chaim, one has to be very, very careful with that. For instance, let’s say someone comes over and begins telling me a story. If in fact it’s l’toeles, it’s for a good purpose, the shemi’as lashon hara, the listening to lashon hara, is not a problem. But I have to know that to be a fact. So explains the Chafetz Chaim what I have to do is say to this person, tell me, this story that you’re about to tell me, is this noge’a, is this applicable for the future? Is this something that will benefit me? Now, if in fact you tell me it is, then I’d be allowed to listen. If in fact you don’t answer in the affirmative then obviously I’m not allowed to listen. It would be the same problem of listening to any lashon hara. And therefore the shemi’a, the listening depends. If in fact it is for a purpose I’m allowed to, but again, I have to make sure that that’s true, so when you begin to tell me the story I have to ask you in fact is this noge’a l’haba, is this something that will help me in the future. Then in fact I won’t violate the issur of shemi’a, of listening, and I’m permitted to listen.
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