SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Hilchos Rechilus 7:2
How’s business, Gershon?”
“Not so good, Yisrael. That new dairy restaurant down the block has been drawing customers away from me. I think my food is just as good, but you know how it is — people always like to try something new.”
“It could be something else, Gershon. Someone told me that the Rav has been advising people to use the new store. He claims that the kashrus supervision is better there. Who knows? Maybe the owner is the Rav’s cousin and he’s trying to get him customers.”
Of course, Yisrael has been guilty of speaking rechilus. The Chofetz Chaim points out that while it is forbidden to speak rechilus about any Jew, it is particularly severe when the subject is a talmid chacham.
He offers three reasons for this:
• The sin of rechilus is worse when the report is false. In the case of a talmid chacham, it is highly unlikely that he would have said or done something that is contrary to halachah. In our example, either the rav never made such a statement, or he had good reason for doing so. Suggesting that he encouraged people to use the other restaurant because the owner is his cousin is slander.
• The Torah commands us to draw close to talmidei chachamim, to assist them in any way possible, and to honor them. By speaking rechilus about a talmid chacham, one is drawing others away from him.
• Very often, people will ignore insults that others are reported to have said about them. In such cases, rechilus causes little damage. However, when someone hears that a talmid chacham has spoken against him, he tends to take it seriously, and the result can be terrible.
In our example, where the one reported to have done Gershon harm is his rav, the results can be tragic. If Gershon accepts the rechilus as fact, he may seek to have the rav fired.
The importance of showing respect for talmidei chachamim at all times cannot be overemphasized. The Chofetz Chaim once likened a talmid chacham to a doctor who possesses a wonder potion that can cure a terrible disease. And he likened those who show disrespect for a talmid chacham to someone who takes the potion out of the doctor’s hand and casts it into the river, making it impossible for him to cure anyone.
Said the Chofetz Chaim: Talmidei chachamim possess the wisdom of Torah, the “potion” that can help people to deal with all sorts of serious problems. But their wisdom is beneficial only as long as respect is shown to them. When people are disrespectful towards talmidei chachamim, they are like the person who casts the potion into the river, for they cause others to ignore the talmid chacham’s words.
IN A NUTSHELL
Speaking rechilus about a talmid chacham is a particularly severe sin.
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