Sensitivities and Secrets

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Hilchos Rechilus 8:4-5

The Torah relates that Avraham Avinu and Sarah Imeinu were visited by three angels disguised as wayfarers. During their visit, one of the angels informed Avraham that in one year, Sarah, at age 90, would give birth to her first and only child. Sarah heard the angel’s pronouncement and she found it difficult to believe. “And Sarah laughed to herself saying: ‘After I have become old, my youth will be restored — and my master [Avraham] is old!’ ”

Hashem was not pleased by Sarah’s reaction. “And Hashem said to Avraham: ‘Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Can it be true that I will give birth after I have grown old?’ ”

Hashem told Avraham only that Sarah had spoken of her own old age, but He made no mention of her having said that Avraham was old. Rashi explains that Hashem omitted this for the sake of shalom, peace, between husband and wife. Avraham might have felt bad to hear that his wife had spoken of him as an “old man.”

This is truly amazing. Avraham was 99 years old at the time — certainly not a “young man” by any standard! And Avraham was one of the greatest human beings ever to walk this earth. Yet, Hashem knew that even someone so great might feel a bit hurt that his wife spoke of him in this way.

The Chofetz Chaim states:

There are other statements that are forbidden because of avak rechilus. For example, if one relates a statement in someone’s name that is not actually derogatory, but people tend to get a bit upset when it is said in their presence.

In Be’er Mayim Chaim, the Chofetz Chaim says that the story of Avraham and Sarah is the source for this halachah. Hashem would not repeat to Avraham the words of Sarah that could have upset him a bit.

The Chofetz Chaim concludes this chapter by cautioning us not to reveal secrets that others tell us in confidence. Revealing another person’s secrets often causes him harm, and is simply bad midos. The word tznius, modesty, usually refers to the way people dress, but it has a much broader meaning. The Chofetz Chaim states that to reveal some­one else’s secrets is to deviate from the way of tznius which demands that a Jew live a modest, low-key life. One aspect of tznius is to speak when appropriate and to remain silent when that is what is required.

Rabbeinu Yonah cites two verses in Sefer Mishlei. The first is:”Holech Rochel Megaleh Sod” He who reveals a secret is a gossiper. He explains, “Do not confide your secrets to someone who is a gossiper. Since he does not guard his mouth from speaking rechilus, you cannot trust him to keep your secret confidential.”

The other verse states the converse “Goleh Sod Holech Rochel” One who reveals secrets is a gossiper. Rabbeinu Yonah explains: “If you see someone who does not exercise self-control to guard his tongue and refrain from revealing others’ secrets … this will lead him to speak rechilus … for his lips are not under his control.”

IN A NUTSHELL

Never repeat a statement to someone that is not derogatory, but may offend him a bit.

Never reveal a secret told to you in confidence.

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© 2020 Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation

© 2020 Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation

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