Q: I went to see my neighborhood Rav because of a problem with a neighbor. I walked in and was surprised to see a different neighbor sitting there. I understood that he was in the process of getting semichah and was learning through shimush: listening to the she’eilos and teshuvos that came up.
I was in a quandary. On the one hand, because I couldn’t change the details, I knew the neighbor who was sitting there would figure out who my question was referring to. I was therefore concerned that it was forbidden for me to ask in his presence. On the other hand, my question was urgent. I couldn’t postpone it to a later date, and I didn’t feel comfortable asking him to leave the room. In the end, I decided to ask my she’eilah. Was it wrong? If so, how can I correct it?
A: As soon as you noticed your neighbor in the Rav’s room, you should have politely explained that your she’eilah included complaints regarding specific people, and you therefore would like to speak to the Rav in private. This is the accepted practice regarding people who are doing shimush with Rabbanim when it is uncomfortable to ask in their presence. Since you didn’t do so, you have spoken lashon hara with no constructive purpose. You must do teshuvah, including viduy, charatah, and kabbalah al ha’asid.
The Rav, of course, didn’t transgress by allowing you to elaborate on the details, because he had no idea that the person in question was your neighbor and that he could deduce who was the subject of your she’eilah.
If the listener figured out right away who the subject of the question was, and that he would be listening to lashon hara, he should have left the room. He obviously understood this only after listening to the negativity, and surely did what is halachically correct in this case, i.e. not to believe and only to be meichish.
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