Sinful Inquiries

SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Hilchos Rechilus 5:5

In the previous segment, we learned that although one may protect himself upon hearing a report that someone is trying to harm him, he may not believe any negative information as fact. All he may do is take precautions on the chance that the report is true.

The Chofetz Chaim continues:

From this, you can see how foolish many people are, for they are in the habit of always asking others, “So what did So-and-so say about me?” They do this even though they know that this information has no bearing on the future. When the person declines to tell them what the speaker said, they pressure him a lot until he finally reveals it. They are told that the person spoke of them in a derogatory way and they accept this information as absolute fact — and through this, the two become bitter enemies.

The page is too short to list the great destructiveness and the many sins that result from such behavior.

Understand well: It is forbidden to accept lashon hara or rechilus as fact even if someone offers the information on his own and the information is relevant for the future. In such a case, the Torah com­mands that we take precautions on the chance that the information is true, but not to believe it as fact. When it is not relevant for the future, we are not even permitted to listen to it.

Certainly, it is forbidden to stand over someone and pressure him until the speaker sins by relating rechilus and the listener sins by listening and accepting it. Someone who does this is a chotei umachti (one who sins and induces others to sin).

Therefore, one has to stay very, very distant from seeking such information, unless he is certain that it is relevant for the future so that he will know how to protect himself from the speaker.

A person may wonder: “What can I do if I worry that someone is talking about me behind my back? Even if I know that his words cannot cause me any actual harm, I still want to know if he is speaking against me. I actually lose sleep at night wondering what he might be saying — and the only way I can find this out is by convincing those who know him to tell me whether or not he talks about me!”

A person who is truly devoted to serving Hashem and who knows that his path of life is correct will not worry about what others might be saying about him.

Two famous brothers, great talmidim of the Vilna Gaon, R’ Chaim and R’ Zalman of Volozhin, were once traveling when they stopped at an inn for the night. The innkeeper was extremely insulting to the two strangers, unaware that he was speaking to two of the greatest tzaddikim of the generation. Later, R’ Chaim found R’ Zalman weeping.

“Zalman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who cares what that man said? “

“Chaim,” his brother replied, “I am crying because at the moment when he was hurling his insults, I felt that it was bothering me a bit. I yearn to attain a level where insults will not bother me at all.”


Unless it is absolutely necessary for personal protection, one should never ask what others are saying about him.

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© 2020 Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation

© 2020 Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation

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