Question:

Why is it wrong to believe someone when they say something about someone else? Isn’t that an example of judging unfavorably (assuming that the person is lying)? Why shouldn’t we take their word that they are telling the truth, and assume it is like we were there themselves, and whatever they said and thought is like what we would see if we had been there ourselves, and from that description we could draw our own conclusions, because even if we saw with our own eyes and ears (not physically there) this doesn’t mean we would think this is the total and sum of the described persons’ personality and actions, we would know that this is a slice of their behavior, and likewise with hearing secondhand information, it would add to our knowledge but we should already know it is a data point, not a sum total nor accurate description/portrayal, just as if we saw with our own eyes, we would still optimally give benefit of the doubt, think of we cannot assume their intentions, or consider we have not been in their shoes ourselves so how can we judge. That is, if someone says “X said “abc”” , and this is according to the type of lashon hara that is factual, then why can it not be believed, if we have good evidence the speaker is honest?

Answer:

Let’s first talk about why we should really suspect the lashon hora speaker of lying. The Chofetz Chaim says that one of the reasons why we are not allowed to believe the lashon hora is because when someone relates something about another person when the other is not present, it is almost inevitable that the person will not add, embellish, exaggerate, or twist the story in some way to make it more interesting or dramatic. He also says that a person that speaks lashon hora is suspect to conveniently alter and change the facts from the truth in order to embellish his story. The Chofetz Chaim also says that often when one small part of the story is twisted, it changes the whole picture, and puts things in a very negative light when in fact that is not what happened.

By being mekabel lashon hora the person hearing the story is being the worst judge around. He is willing to judge the victim of the lashon hora unfavorably without even seeing and verifying the story, just because someone said…. In fact it is not merely from anyone, but from a person that is not careful about their speech, and at the very time when the person is sinning and not being careful with his speech!  This is the exact opposite of judging people favorably!  It is judging a clear perpetrator of bring innocent, while at the same time judging the innocent (until proven guilty) victim negatively!

Besides what proof do we have to believe this person? His honesty? Right now he is committing the sin of lashon hora, and very possible that it is also, at least partially motzei shem ra, (slander). The Chofetz Chaim compares it to a person that is wearing klayim and has pork in his mouth, and is telling you something about someone else. Are we going to believe this person, or the innocent person that this person is badmouthing?! So now of all times is not the place for us to “judge him favorably” and let him kill the other person’s reputation etc. and to believe him and assist him in judging the other person unfavorably.

Therefore the proper way to judge what we see in front of us is that the person who is clearly a sinner, should be judged unfavorably, and the victim, who we have no proof as to his guilt, he should be judged favorably.

Sources:

Be’er Mayim Chaim Lavin 2. Rechilus 6-2, Shmiras Halashom Shar Hazechira 12.

Tags: slander

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