Mishmeres HaSholom: Ask the Rav

Q: When my mother heard my father’s terrible diagnosis, she decided that the disease would be kept a well-guarded secret. She didn’t want people talking about us, and thought it best to avoid hearing heartless comments that could hurt my father or other family members.

This secretive approach is not easy on me. I’m not getting the empathy and support I need from my friends. Besides, we’re losing out by not organizing Tehillim sessions or groups of people to do special mitzvos for my father’s refuah.

I also believe that because the disease is spreading quickly, it is obvious that my father isn’t doing well and his illness will soon become public knowledge, regardless. In addition, my father has nothing against sharing knowledge of his illness with others and is only keeping it secret for my mother’s sake.

What should I do?

A: The Chofetz Chaim quotes Rabbeinu Yonah: “A person is obligated to keep secret what his friend discloses to him in passing, even if the information wouldn’t normally constitute rechilus. Disclosing a secret can cause the person damage and upset him. It is also a breach in tznius and violates the subject’s confidentiality. (hilchos rechilus, klal 8, seif 5)

The Chofetz Chaim then adds, “And this is a very serious matter; more than simple avak lashon hara and rechilus.

In light of the above, since your father agreed to keep matters quiet, and your mother is wary of people knowing that her husband isn’t well, there is no heter for you to disclose the secret. Your arguments that secrecy prevents you from getting emotional support and from organizing public tefillos isn’t reason enough to violate this prohibition.

If your father’s condition deteriorates, chas v’shalom, and people hear about it, then, it would seem that your mother’s wish would be nullified and you would be permitted to share the information with others, and to organize public tefillos. May your father have a speedy recovery.