Mishmeres HaSholom: Ask the Rav

Q: I am grateful to have become a baalas teshuvah a number of years ago, and make every effort to live my life in accordance with halachah, including the important laws of shemiras halashon.

My irreligious mother lives overseas, and I often speak to her by phone. Unfortunately, I find myself listening to lashon hara during our telephone conversations. I’ve tried explaining to her that I am careful to avoid speaking negatively of others, and try to steer her into a more positive mode. But this problem persists.

My mother is a lonely widow, and waits for my weekly phone calls. What should I do?

A: You didn’t specify who your mother talks about, and why she talks about them. We will therefore address two types of discussions:

It is common for an elderly lonely woman to feel upset and distressed about one of her children, a neighbor or anyone else in her life. Sometimes her words may carry weight, but it is quite possible that her complaints are unfounded. In any case, your elderly mother needs a listening ear and support, and some suggestions of how to deal with her situation. The circumstances would often allow for the heter of listening to the gripes for the abovementioned reasons. However, they should not be accepted as truth. One may only exercise caution if there would be practical benefit, and each situation must be judged individually.

On the other hand, if it is a matter of simple chit-chat about others, you should stick to your principles and not yield.  You could say, “Let’s talk about positive things and not use negative language,” and then change the subject. If you do this consistently, Hashem will help you overcome the challenge and not transgress.

It is recommended that before you call you mother, you say a short tefillah that you be saved from forbidden speech.