In this segment, the Chofetz Chaim teaches us an important rule concerning giving advice.
Shimon is seeking a partner with whom to start a business. He sets his eye upon Levi, who has a reputation as an aggressive, energetic businessman. Shimon does not know Levi personally, but his friend Reuven knows Levi well. In a conversation with Reuven one day, Shimon mentions his consideration of Levi as a partner.
Reuven cannot believe it! His friend Levi has been unemployed for six months and is desperately trying to earn some money. Reuven had promised to help him find a job. And now the opportunity has fallen right into his lap!
But there is something else that Reuven knows. Levi has been borrowing thousands of dollars and has yet to pay back a cent. His situation is becoming desperate, and therefore it is quite possible that he is prepared to make some risky investments to try and earn a quick, sizeable profit and pay off some of his debts. In his heart, Reuven knows the truth: he would not take Levi as a partner in his own business at the present time.
The Chofetz Chaim informs us that there is a vast difference between withholding negative information about someone and offering advice which ignores such information. In our example, if Reuven were to hear that Shimon is preparing to enter into a partnership with Levi, it might be forbidden for him to approach Shimon and inform him that he considers the partnership a risk. He has no proof that Levi is going to do business recklessly; Reuven’s concerns are based merely on his assessment of Levi’s situation. For him to discourage Shimon because of this may very well be forbidden. On the other hand, for Reuven to ignore such information and instead use his conversation with Shimon as an opportunity to encourage Shimon to enter into the partnership would be a transgression of “Do not place a stumbling block before the blind” (Vayikra 19:14), which prohibits us from intentionally offering bad advice.
The Chofetz Chaim bemoans the fact that some people offer such advice because they are blinded by financial considerations. For example, Reuven may be one of Levi’s creditors. He wants to see Levi earn some money so that Levi will pay his debts. It is in such situations that Reuven must be honest with himself and not offer advice that he knows is not in Shimon’s best interests. The same would apply in the area of shidduchim (marriage matches) and other types of relationships.