Q: We were looking forward to the Shabbos aufruf of our future son-in-law. Close to Shabbos, we arrived at the apartment that our mechutanim had arranged for us, and were appalled at what met our eyes. Our hostess’s home was decorated with immodest wall hangings. In a panic, I pulled my children out into the hallway and could barely control my tears. In spite of my husband’s best efforts, he couldn’t cover all the paintings and there was no way we could stay there.
Confused and upset, we told the chassan’s family about our problem. Our tale spread quickly among family and guests. Everyone expressed dismay, adding that it was unbefitting for a family of their caliber. After the mechutanim managed to find us alternate sleeping arrangements (at the homes of two different families), and all the children had their linen and blankets, it dawned on me that I had transgressed. We were guilty of severe lashon hara regarding that family.
How can I correct what I did?
A: In your case, the simple facts would fit the category of to’eles, because staying in an immodest environment wasn’t an option for you. You may, however, have come up with a variation of the truth as to why you couldn’t possibly stay in the apartment. (One option would be to say there was a gas smell.) Yet, taking into account the confusion and late hour you had to contend with, you probably couldn’t think rationally enough to drum up an alternate excuse.
Therefore, if you relayed the information to the relevant parties, who could arrange a different apartment for you (reminding them not to pass on the story), you have not transgressed the issur of lashon hara. Then again, if you did share the story with others, then you have transgressed the prohibition of publicizing negative information with no constructive purpose, and you must do teshuvah, as previously mentioned.
In this case, it seems that you are not obligated to ask for forgiveness, since in all probability others have been to their home or are otherwise aware of the situation, and it is thus a chazakah that it is public knowledge. There are various additional reasons to back this ruling.
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