SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Hilchos Rechilus 9:3-4
In this segment, we learn of a situation where it should be permissible to speak rechilus.
Dov delivers meat for a local butcher. One day, he was carrying a heavy box of meat down the path to the Steinwaters’ door when their automatic sprinkler system went on at the wrong time and drenched Dov from head to toe. Dov, who is known for his temper, told Mendy later that day, “I don’t care if it was a mistake. Such things should never happen. I’m going back there after midnight when everyone’s asleep and I’m going to break those sprinklers so that they never get anyone wet ever again.”
Can Mendy inform Mr. Steinwater about Dov’s plans? The Chofetz Chaim states:
If the person making the threat has a reputation for such things, meaning, he has done similar things to others previously; or, if the listener can tell that the person is not merely “letting off steam” but that he means what he says and will surely carry out his threat, then he should inform the other person in the hope that he will be able to protect himself so that he will not suffer damage. However, before relating the information, he must be careful to fulfill the five conditions listed above [in the preceding segment].
This is true only if, to Mendy’s mind, Mr. Steinwater will respond merely by protecting his property from being damaged. However, if his reaction would be “I’ll teach that guy a lesson” by drenching him a second time, which will surely enrage him even more and lead to an all-out feud, then he should not inform him of Dov’s plans.
This will mean that Dov will probably carry out his plot. Mr. Steinwater will awaken to discover that his sprinkler system has been badly damaged and might require major, costly repairs. This would be terrible, and Dov would surely owe Mr. Steinwater the cost of the damage, in addition to having to engage in teshuvah towards Hashem and ask forgiveness of Mr. Steinwater. And this might never happen.
Nevertheless, the damage caused is surely preferable to a fight between two hot-tempered individuals, which might lead to severe monetary damage on both sides, the possibility of a full-scale feud that will involve others, and even physical attacks.
This is why the Chofetz Chaim cautions: “Therefore, one must ponder the matter well at the outset, to determine the best way to deal with the situation.” In other words, never rush to relate rechilus or lashon hara for a constructive purpose without first determining that something constructive will really be accomplished.
Many times we do things with good intentions but the results are not good. Because speech is powerful and requires little effort, we need to be on guard at all times to ensure that we speak only words that will help, and not words that will harm.
IN A NUTSHELL
One may warn his fellow Jew about an impending attack by another Jew, provided that his warning will not bring about a full-scale feud or other negative results.
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