Mishmeres HaSholom: Ask the Rav

Q:As one of my obligations as a high school madrichah, I lend a listening ear to students, allowing them to vent their frustration over personal difficulties. These conversations often revolve around issues of insults, resentment or family members’ unacceptable behavior. I listen and guide them towards viewing life’s struggles in a positive light, suggest various coping strategies, and encourage them to act in accordance with daas Torah. Often, all they need is to unburden themselves and receive some sympathy in exchange. Though I am generally not familiar on a personal level with the people under discussion, I am concerned that it may involve lashon hara and that chances are that I may encounter the subjects of our talks in the future.

Am I permitted to listen to my students due to the constructive chinuch opportunity such discussions provide? And if so, must I tell the student that I am listening for constructive purposes, so that she won’t assume that I am making light of the prohibition of lashon hara?

 

A:It is indeed vital for your students’ education and emotional well-being to have an available listening ear and guidance in their issues. Given that your sympathy may be all they need, you are permitted to listen and advise them. You may, however, not believe anything derogatory, and only suspect the accuracy of the information. It is important that you tell your students that you are acting in accordance with the halachah, and are therefore listening for constructive purposes only, and not accepting any information as absolute.