Tammuz 27, 5775
Teshuva for Loshon Hora
I was asked, in conversation, why somebody got divorced. I thought I could answer the question factually and non-judgmentally. However, I subsequently realised that my words could not possibly have portrayed the subject in a positive light. Sadly, I will not be able to convince the listener that I may have been mistaken. Moreover, I cannot apologise to the subject by telling her what I said as this will pain her. I don’t know her well; she lives abroad and we have never been in contact. Therefore, if I procure her phone number, telephone her before Yom Kippur, for example, and ask her to forgive me generically for "anything I may have done", she will still be pained as she will realise that the only wrong I could possibly have done her, considering we have no contact, would be something of which she is not aware - ie gossip. Many people have told me that they would rather people didn’t ask them to forgive them for loshon hora spoken about them - (even if the actual slanderous words remain unspecified) - as they would rather be blissfully unaware of this. Please advise.
Thank you for your question. The painful issue you bring up is dealt with by the great Rabbis of the last generation. The Hafetz Haim was of the opinion that in such a case, even though it will cause pain to the person you wronged, you must ask her forgiveness in order to do proper tshuvah. This is no different than any sin against another person, which requires (amongst the other requirements for tshuvah) begging the forgiveness of the person wronged. However, Rav Yisrael Salanter zt"l, the famous founder of the Musser movement, is quoted as ruling that one is not allowed to attain their own forgiveness at the expense of another person's pain. If asking forgiveness will cause the women pain (as you write in your case) he forbids it. Note that he does not say that one is exempt from asking for forgiveness – just that it is forbidden to do so. That is, one is left without the opportunity to attain total tshuvah!
So, in your case, you have a classic example of where you cannot fulfill the rulings of both Rabbis – and must make some choice as to what to do. Although there are opinions on both sides of the argument, I would advice to not call the women in question, and not cause her the pain you imagine will result.
However, in order to help yourself grow from this situation, may I suggest that you take upon yourself (without taking an oath) to learn the laws of Lashon HaRah daily? There are many good resources (books, websites, etc) that you can use for this. Please G-d, this extra learning to guard your tongue will be a positive result that will come from the wrong caused.
May you be blessed with only good.
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