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I Don't Want To Be Reuvain!!

There is a passage in the Sefer Chovos Halevavos [Shaár Hakniah sof perek 7] that is quoted by the Chafetz Chaim that I find both frightening and puzzling. If Reuvain speaks lashon hara about Shimon three things happen. 1] Reuvain loses the mitzvos that he has performed. 2] Shimon receives credit for those mitzvos. 3] Reuvain is also considered as if he committed transgressions [Shimon's?] of which he was innocent. When Reuvain gets to heaven he will be shocked!! He rose every morning for Daf Yomi and finished shas five times. Gone. Never did it. Shimon is the scholar. Gave millions of dollars to tzedaka. Erased from his record. Shimon was the benefactor. Never missed a minyan in fifty years. Nope! That was Shimon, too.

On one hand that is scary [being that we might chas v'shalom be Reuvain]. On the other hand, how can this be understood rationally??? Where is the justice. True, Reuvain doesn't deserve [to paraphrase a teacher of mine from high school] a medal or a monument. But why such a severe punishment that doesn't seem to fit the crime???????!!

If I remember correctly, רמב"ם in מו"נ (as quoted by מהרי"ץ חיות's מבוא לתלמוד [Ch. 19 I think] - I didn't see מו"נ inside) explains many seemingly wild אגדות that ascribe horrendous punishments for seemingly less-than-deserving עבירות by saying that חז"ל used hyperbole to try to illustrate the severity of the עבירות. In other words, speaking לשון הרע is not really יהרג ואל יעבר because it is not actual רציחה (leaving aside the plethora of other explanations for now). חז"ל are saying it's as bad as רציחה and they might compare someone who speaks לשון הרע to some of the less-illustrious personae in Jewish history. But that is not to say it is an ontic reality; rather, it is to illustrate how we should treat it. (Of course חז"ל do not randomly choose another punishment to which they can affix it, they choose ones that use similar wording, are similar in nature on some level, etc.)

And even if it were ontically so I cannot see how that would really add anything if we take the words of חז"ל seriously anyway. If it's not ontically so and we listen to חז"ל and treat it as if it were, then even when it is it doesn't change anything; our orientation prior to the revelation was that it's fire and it still is. And beyond what's written we'll never really know while on this earth. Beyond that there's nothing else to do: I, for one, do not always know when I am speaking לשון הרע, and I definitely do not know the amount of מצות I have and עבירות the victim has. Just imagining the humanesque type of erasure, transfer, and painstaking copying from one "book" to another puts me in a tizzy.

i think this can relate back to the issue of what lashon hara really is. what we call lashon hara is a negative statement that is totally true. chazal say that hashem often "reviews" our "profile" of mitzvot and aveirot when other people make mention of them- this is whats behind the power of ayin hara. so when we speak lashon hara, we are not only diminishing the person's good deeds in the eyes of others, but we may also be doing so in the eyes of hashem,and this is very serious and unfair. so maybe hashem is protecting the victim in this case to make up for his so-to-speak diminished mitzvot by drwaing from the account of the speaker.

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About me

  • I'm Rabbi Ally Ehrman
  • From Old City Jerusalem, Israel
  • I am a Rebbe in Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh.
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