Mishmeres HaSholom: Ask the Rav

Q: I returned from a wedding with a friend and commented, “The kallah’s sister looked gorgeous.” It hadn’t dawned upon me that my friend would turn her nose up and respond that the sister is not to her liking at all.

Do my words constitute a transgression of avak lashon hara because I caused her to speak lashon hara?

A: Praise can constitute avak lashon hara in two ways: 1. Praising an individual in the presence of his enemy. 2. Even if not in the presence of an enemy, praising an individual excessively (either using a unique, special praise, or praising again and again). In both instances, the reason is that the praise may cause the listener to respond in an opposite manner — with negativity.

With regard to the question at hand, you praised the kallah’s sister, but it was not in the range of “excessive praise” (based on the aforementioned guidelines) as is accepted when speaking among friends. It therefore does not constitute a transgression of avak lashon hara. It is not anticipated that you could assume that the listener very much dislikes the kallah’s sister, and as a result of your words respond negatively. It is thus that you are considered an oness — not at fault.

Still, Chazal teach: “Megalgelin zechus al yedei zakai, v’chovah al yedei chayav — Merits come about through the meritorious and negativity through the sinful.”

In actuality, you caused lashon hara to be spoken, and it could be considered as a sign from Above about how careful we must be before we let words — even praise — leave our mouths. It is incumbent upon us to consider if the listener will think similarly regarding praise and will accept it agreeably.

The questions and answers above were taken from the Mishmeres Hasholom pamphlet in Israel. For details and inquiries please e-mail us at office@hasholom.org or call 972-2 5379160.

The views expressed are of the individual author. Readers are encouraged to consult their own posek for guidance.