Q: In elementary school, we spoke lashon harah about various teachers, as students tend to do. There was one particular teacher whom we spoke about and laughed at a lot. Today I seriously regret it and would want to ask that teacher’s forgiveness, but I found out that she moved abroad. Am I obligated to search for her, or can I rely on the fact that, generally, teachers take this kind of conduct on the part of their students into account and forgive them?
A: In a case of this kind, the determining factor is whether damage, pain or distress was caused to the teacher about whom you spoke. From the content of the question, it appears that you and your friends spoke abundant lashon harah about the teacher and laughed at her a lot. In general, this kind of situation causes the teacher damage and much distress.
Even if she does not know exactly what is going on behind her back, the results are self-evident — both in the realm of classroom discipline, such as rampant disobedience, as well as from the scholastic standpoint, since contempt for the teacher leads to contempt for the subject, negligence in doing homework, and so on. Clearly, such a situation generates great anguish to the teacher, especially if she knows that it stems from the students’ derision.
If that indeed was the case, it is clear that you must appease the teacher and ask for her forgiveness. It would appear that one cannot rely on the argument that you brought up — that teachers usually forgive students for such conduct of their own accord — especially in the case before us, which describes unusually irregular conduct.
Even though the teacher has moved out of the country, it appears that this does not exempt you from looking for her and conciliating her, especially nowadays when communication around the globe is so easy and low-cost, baruch Hashem.
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