The Laws #5

When He's Present or Not Present

מַכֶּה רֵעֵהוּ בַּסָּתֶר””, hitting your friend in hiding. Most situations in lashon hara is when the person isn’t there. So you and I are speaking about someone else and I tell you this and this and that and that. The Torah gives a specific curse – one who hits his friend when he’s not around, that refers to lashon hara. Why am I speaking about that person? Because he’s not here. Had he been here obviously I wouldn’t have told it. And that obviously is lashon hara and that is included in the curse of “מַכֶּה רֵעֵהוּ בַּסָּתֶר”.

Additionally, explains the Chafetz Chaim, let’s imagine I would say those words even if he was here, and imagine for a moment he is. So you and I are talking and this third person is here and I tell you about him while he is present. That is also lashon hara. Why? Because the definition of lashon hara is words that hurt, words that damage. He’s certainly embarrassed by it; it certainly damages him in the sense of causing him pain. And because of that, even if he’s here it’s lashon hara.

But even further, let’s imagine you’re not here. Let’s imagine I’m speaking directly to this person and I tell him over an event that he did or I remind him about something that he said. If it’s a derogatory, damaging comment and it causes him pain, causes him embarrassment, even though no one else hears other than he and I it’s also included in the lo sa’aseh of lashon hara. If that person I was speaking about isn’t around, additionally it’s the curse of מַכֶּה רֵעֵהוּ בַּסָּתֶר””.

If he is around, explains the Chafetz Chaim, it certainly is lashon hara, even if no one else is around, but in addition to the actual problem of lashon hara oftentimes I’m also embarrassing him. Even if you’re not around, even if no one else sees, just embarrassing another Jew between he and I is ” לֹא תִשָֹּא עָלָיו חֵטְא”, is a full lo sa’aseh of the Torah not to embarrass him. So not only do I damage him in the sense that I’m speaking lashon hara, I’m also embarrassing him, and therefore it’s an even worse aveirah.

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