Beit Midrash

  • Jewish Laws and Thoughts
  • Lashon Hara
To dedicate this lesson
At the Shabbat Table

Driven to Talk


Rabbi Daniel Kirsch

Elul 24 5780
The bus doors slammed shut, within inches of Menachem’s backpack. He was grateful that he and his belongings were on this side of the doors, instead of being left on the sidewalk. He was even more grateful when he spotted an empty seat. Within seconds of swiping his bus card, Menachem was comfortably ensconced in the blue and red fabric. He was just about to close his eyes, when he felt a tap on his shoulder.
"Where have you been? I haven’t seen you since graduation!"
Menachem looked up in surprise. It didn’t take long to identify his seatmate. After all, it had only been two years since they had been in eighth grade together.
"Shmuel, how’s it going?" Menachem inquired eagerly. "How’s your high school working out?"
"Good. I mean, it was good until this year," Shmuel responded. "I don’t know why they gave us this teacher. First of all, he thinks we’re still in kindergarten. The way he treats us, I half expect him to give us milk and cookies and have us lie down for nap time. But that’s not the worst part! He doesn’t even know how to teach. He spends more time talking about his cats than teaching us anything, and then he gives us tests and expects us to know the answers…"
The bus drove on, as Shmuel continued to bash, vilify and malign. As Menachem listened, he felt decidedly mixed feelings. On the one hand, he was glad that he didn’t have to deal with a teacher like this. On the other hand, it was too bad that he didn’t have some material of his own to share.
All too soon, the bus came to Menachem’s stop. He pushed the button, waved goodbye to Shmuel, and grabbed his bag. As Menachem walked along the sidewalk, he mulled over Shmuel’s story. Come to think of it, it would be really interesting to know the name of Shmuel’s teacher.
As soon as Menachem walked into his house, he picked up the phone, and called his old friend Yitzy. Yitzy had been in elementary school with Menachem and Shmuel, and Yitzy was the type to know important information.
"Just wondering, Yitzy," Menachem inquired. "Do you have any idea which teacher Shmuel has this year?"
"Sure. His name is Yossi Mizrachi," Yitzy responded.
"Whaaat?" stammered Shmuel. "Yossi Mizrachi is my father’s best friend! I can’t believe that Shmuel said all that lashon hara (gossip) about him! Why would he do that?!"
"Hold on, Menachem," Yitzy interjected. "Calm down. Why are you so sure that Shmuel is the one who spoke lashon hara? Maybe you did, just now, when you asked me what the teacher’s name is!"
Did Shmuel speak lashon hara? Did Menachem speak lashon hara?
Answer of Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl, shlita:
Both Shmuel and Menachem spoke lashon hara. Shmuel shouldn’t have spoken about his teacher, out of concern that Menachem might find out the identity of the teacher, in the future. (It is possible that, according to the letter of the law, it would have been permitted for Shmuel to talk about his teacher, if the chance of Menachem finding out the teacher’s name was very remote. However, why was it necessary to talk about such things!?) Menachem violated the prohibition against listening to lashon hara, retroactively, when he found out the name of the teacher. It is possible that he also violated lifnei iver lo titen michshol (lit. "do not place a stumbling block before the blind," which includes the prohibition against causing another to sin). This is because, by finding out the teacher’s name, he retroactively caused Shmuel to have spoken lashon hara.
In summary:
Both Shmuel and Menachem spoke lashon hara

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