In the previous segment, the Chofetz Chaim presented a case where one would be obligated to speak rechilus for a constructive purpose. A simpleton was on the verge of making a purchase from a shrewd, dishonest storekeeper. In such cases, one would be required to inform the person not to make the purchase.
In this segment, the Chofetz Chaim takes the story one step further. The purchase has already been made and the customer has been cheated. Should the observer now go and inform the buyer that he’s been “taken for a ride”? On the surface, the answer would seem to be a resounding “Yes!” Why shouldn’t we let the man know that he has been victimized so that he can demand a refund?
The answer to this is that in certain instances, the man cannot legally demand a refund. For example, the laws of ona’ah (fraud) call for a refund only when the buyer has been overcharged an amount equal to one-sixth of the item’s true value. If the amount is less than one-sixth of the item’s value, the seller cannot be forced to refund the money. (Since the amount is small and most people would not make a claim to recover it, the wronged party is assumed to have relinquished his claim to it — see Mishnah Bava Metzia 4:3). In this case, as well as other cases where Halachah does not call for a refund, it would be forbidden to tell the buyer that he had been cheated, for no constructive purpose would be served.
The Chofetz Chaim says more.
If the buyer asks us whether we think he was cheated, we are not allowed to tell him the truth, for this would cause strife and is therefore considered rechilus. To the contrary, says the Chofetz Chaim; in such a case it would be a mitzvah to praise the transaction and tell the buyer that he did well with his purchase. The Chofetz Chaim assures us that the command “Distance yourself from falsehood” (Shemos 23:7) does not apply here. As we have already explained (Day 92), preserving peace is a form of truth, while spreading animosity is equated with falsehood.
The Chofetz Chaim also points out a case where the amount which the buyer was overcharged is refundable in beis din, but nevertheless it is questionable whether the victim can be told that he was overcharged. This is where the buyer is known to have a loose tongue. He is liable to tell the storekeeper “And if you want to know how I figured out that you swindled me — it was Shimon who told me!” In this case, by informing him that he was cheated, we would be causing him to speak rechilus.
This, in fact, is a very likely possibility. In confronting the storekeeper and making his case, Reuven’s natural tendency would be to draw upon all his evidence, including the identity of his informer. Nevertheless, he would be wrong for doing so.
We know how seriously the Torah views fraud. It is seen, not as a small indiscretion, but as something which destroys the world. Nevertheless, the need to expose fraud does not grant us a license to cause another Jew to sin and to cause strife among the Jewish people.