Mishmeres HaSholom – Ask the Rav

Q: My wife often confides in me regarding difficulties she encounters at work. These discussions include resentments, anger, negativity and lashon hara about those who offended, belittled or embarrassed her. I’m familiar with her workmates, and I realize who the subject of her story is as soon as I hear the details. It therefore makes no difference if she repeats the story with or without names.

It is difficult for her to bear the pain alone and I want her to feel that I sympathize and that I am willing to help her through it. I know that there is a heter to listen to lashon hara for the sake of helping someone calm down, without believing and accepting the information as fact. But I hesitate to tell her so because if she suspects that I don’t really believe her, she sees it as an offense. What should I do?

A: Even when a heter does exist to listen to lashon hara for the constructive purpose of calming another person, it is strictly forbidden to accept the information as fact. One must always leave room for doubt.
Perhaps some details would change the story; maybe the individual judged it from her vantage point at that moment. There is always room for giving the benefit of the doubt.

At an opportune moment (not while she’s angry), explain to your wife what this halachah entails. Later, when faced with the challenge, with Hashem’s help, your wife won’t be offended. This does not detract from the obligation to listen attentively to her woes and express your sympathy. In your heart, remember that it is forbidden to accept the details as true.

It is important to add that the heter for listening to lashon hara to calm another person is restricted to limited cases only. These discussions should not become routine, and one shouldn’t rely on this heter consistently. The above leniency applies to situations where there is no alternative and this is the only option for relieving the resentment.