This article is adapted from my newly-released sefer, “What Can I Say… Today”. All halachos mentioned herein are complex and part of a larger framework. The purpose of the article is to raise awareness of these essential halachos. Hence, one should not draw any practical conclusions without first consulting a rav.
Speaking to One’s Spouse
There is a circumstance in which the prohibition of speaking Loshon Hora is commonly transgressed. When one comes home from a hard day’s work, it is common to talk to his spouse about how the day went. Indeed, this is a commendable practice, and it is important for shalom bayis (marital harmony). However, it is not permissible to tell Loshon Hora to one’s spouse. Therefore, even if an individual feels very close to his spouse and shares everything, he may not relate anything negative about another person. Furthermore, Chazal teach that one who regularly relates Loshon Hora to his wife will ultimately bring troubles upon himself. Furthermore, he will eventually lose her respect and negatively impact his marriage.
Important Note: Regarding a need to share something with one’s spouse in order to receive advice for dealing with the situation at hand, or out of a genuine need to let off steam, a dispensation does exist. This will be the subject of a future article.
Rav Pam’s Silence
A story is told about Rav Avrohom Pam’s careful adherence to this halacha. There was a period in time when Rav Pam was concerned about a controversy involving some people with whom he was very close. On a daily basis, he was kept abreast of the situation. Once, Rebbetzin Pam was seated at a simcha, and a woman at the table brought up the controversy. Rebbetzin Pam was the only one at the table who had no idea what she was talking about! Apparently, Rav Pam had been careful to refrain from letting his wife know anything about the situation.
The Birth of Rav Elyashiv
Rav Avrohom Elyashiv and his wife, Chaya Musha, were pious Jews who lived in Shavel, Lithuania. They had been married for many years, but remained childless. One day, Chaya Musha was hanging out her laundry to dry. She had a cantankerous neighbor who walked by, spitefully pulled down the laundry, and threw it in the mud. This required Chaya Musha to laboriously hand-wash all of the laundry again. Chaya Musha herself had witnessed what happened, but she restrained herself and said nothing.
A short time later, the neighbor’s son became deathly ill. The neighbor was distraught, and she went to her rabbi, known as Reb Shlomo, to ask what to do to save her son. Reb Shlomo told the neighbor that Hashem has a reason for everything that He does. He asked her if she had done anything wrong recently, for which she was being punished. The lady recalled the incident with Chaya Musha’s laundry. Reb Shlomo said that she must go to the lady who she had harmed and ask her for forgiveness. So, the neighbor went to the Elyashiv home. and knocked on the door. Reb Avrohom opened the door, and told her that his wife was not home. The neighbor insisted that she speak to Chaya Musha, in order to ask for her forgiveness. Reb Avrohom said that if she had done anything so terrible to his wife, he certainly would have heard about it. He concluded that, as he had not heard of anything, the neighbor must have confused another lady for his wife. In truth, he argued, she had not done anything to his wife at all.
The neighbor went back to Reb Shlomo and asked him what to do. She said that she knew it was Chaya Musha that she had harmed. She even knew that Chaya Musha had seen what happened. However, Reb Avrohom had insisted that it must have happened to someone else. Reb Shlomo responded that Chaya Musha was a saintly woman, and presumably she did not say anything to the neighbor so that she would not be embarrassed. Similarly, she must have not even related the incident to her husband, so that he would not know that the neighbor had dirtied their laundry and lose respect for her.
Soon afterwards, Chaya Musha become pregnant and gave birth to her only child, Yosef Shalom. Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv grew up to become one of the greatest Torah giants of his generation. It is said that Chaya Musha merited the birth of her extraordinary son as a reward for her restraint from embarrassing or speaking negatively about her neighbor.
Although few of us are at the level of Chaya Musha, this story can serve as inspiration for us to be meticulous regarding what we relate to our spouses.
The Impact on Children
The Chofetz Chaim writes that, in his opinion, a primary cause for the prevalence of Loshon Hora is the lack of chinuch (training one’s children) regarding the prohibition and its severity. It is often challenging for a ba’al teshuva to start keeping, for instance, the laws of Shabbos or Kashrus. However, for those who were raised keeping these laws, they are second nature. If children would be trained from a young age to be as careful about what comes out of their mouths as they are about what goes in, they would find it easier to adhere to these halachos as adults.
Rav Nissim Karelitz related a story that he had heard from his mother: As a young child, she once overheard someone speak negatively about her father, the rabbi of the town. She subsequently told her father what she had heard. Her father shouted, “Rechilus!” (rebuking her for telling him something that would cause him to become upset at the one who spoke against him). Rav Karelitz’s mother said that this made a lasting impression on her, regarding the obligation to distance oneself from forbidden speech.
The best form of chinuch is by example. When the parents adhere to the laws of Loshon Hora, the children will pick up on it. Conversely, if parents are not careful themselves, even teaching the laws of Loshon Hora to their children will be ineffective. This contradictory behavior will only plant seeds of confusion and rebellion, and is counterproductive.