In this segment, the Chofetz Chaim gives us two examples of rechilus which are at opposite extremes. The first deals with an am ha’aretz, a Jew who is woefully poor in his knowledge of Torah. The Chofetz Chaim reminds us that the primary prohibition against loshon hora and rechilus is Lo Seileich Rachil B’Amecha, You shall not go as a peddler of gossip among your people (Vayikra 19:16). An am ha’aretz, though ignorant of Torah, is certainly included in Amecha, your people. Thus, it is absolutely forbidden to speak rechilus about him.
The Chofetz Chaim then cautions us very strongly against speaking rechilus about a talmid chacham (Torah scholar). The Chofetz Chaim’s points are explained through the following illustration:
Let us imagine that Chaim tells Yosef: “Rabbi Adams told me that your honesty leaves something to be desired.” Now, as we have already learned, rechilus cannot be related even when it is true. If it is false, the sin is greater. In the case of a talmid chacham, chances are that either the speaker is not reporting the statement correctly — in other words, he’s guilty of falsehood — or that the scholar had good reason for saying what he said.
Furthermore, says the Chofetz Chaim, the Torah commands us to respect and assist Torah scholars. We should eat with them, do business with them, seek to marry our daughters to them, and cling to them in any way possible. A Jew does the opposite when he speaks rechilus concerning a talmid chacham.
Finally, people are especially hurt when they hear that a person of stature spoke badly of them. When Yosef hears that Rabbi Adams said he is dishonest, this will very possibly cause him to feel deep resentment towards the rabbi. If he had looked to the rabbi as his mentor, his religious observance might even be affected.
If Yosef is hot-tempered, the report could lead to a feud. If Rabbi Adams is the rav (rabbi) of the synagogue in which Yosef is a member, such rechilus might ultimately cause the rav to lose his position. Thus, rechilus spoken about a talmid chacham is an extremely serious matter.