Teshuva for Speaking Loshon Hora

Teshuva for Speaking Loshon Hora

If one spoke loshon hora and wishes to do teshuva, the halacha is as follows:

  • If no damage was caused to the subject, for example, the listeners did not accept the defamation, the speaker must still repent for his averah ben adam laMakom (between man and G-d) - transgressing the prohibition of speaking loshon hora, which is assur even if no harm was effected. This includes the 3 components of teshuva:
    1. Charatah (regret)
    2. Vidui (confession) (to Hashem only)
    3. Kabbalah (a sincere acceptance for the future to avoid transgressing again)
  • If the listeners did accept the speaker's words, thus causing damage or suffering to the subject, then, in addition to the violation of Hashem's commandment and the accompanying teshuvah, he MUST also ask forgiveness from the subject for the hurt he has caused him, as with any averah bein adam lachavero (between man and his fellow). Even if the subject does not know about the loshon hora and the damage caused to him, the speaker must still approach him and ask mechilah for his misconduct.
Although there is an argument in the Gemara (Arachin 15b) about whether a speaker of loshon hora can cleanse himself through Torah study, this refers to the spiritual damage caused by loshon hora to one's power of speech.  However, all agree that one MUST ASK FORGIVENESS from the subject.  After he obtains forgiveness, all agree that he can restore his speech to its previous level via engaging his mouth in constant Torah study (Shmiras Haloshon, Sha'ar HaTorah 1-Note).

There is a well-known disagreement between the Chofetz Chaim and HaRav Yisrael Salanter regarding asking forgiveness from the subject, when doing so will cause him pain (for example, the subject did not realize that the damage was caused by loshon hora, or if asking mechilah will reopen old wounds).  The Chofetz Chaim writes (based on a Sha'arei Teshuvah) that one is required to beg forgiveness. R' Salanter holds that one may not discharge his obligation to do teshuvah by violating the prohibition of paining someone.

If one can ask a general mechilah from the victim without specifying the loshon hora, perhaps that would be the proper course of action (Shiurei Iyun).  Even the Chofetz Chaimi would agree that one should not ask mechilah if it will cause machlokes or anger (R' Yitzchak Zilberstein).  Similarly, for one to reveal to another person that he ridiculed him in public should be avoided, since it may cause the victim to transgress the prohibition of hating another Jew. Rather he should ask a general mechilah for speaking loshon hora (R' Chaim Kanievsky).

If someone destroyed another's shidduch prospect through forbidden speech,  R' A.Y. Dunner advises to wait until he gets engaged to someone else before asking mechilah, since at that point, it will probably be easier to obtain forgiveness without arousing anger and pain. (Dirshu pg. 303).

  • If one wishes to repent but does not remember from whom to ask mechilah, he should pray to Hashem that anyone whom he has hurt should forgive him.  R' Chaim Kanievsky states that as per Chovos Halevavos Shaarei Teshuvah chapter 10, that if one sincerely desires teshuvah, Hashem will put into the hearts of others to forgive him. (Dirshu pg. 303).  The Chofetz Chaim advises, based on a midrash that tzadikim seek rectification in the same manner in which they sinned, that one who spoke loshon hora should study and teach the laws of forbidden speech and thus Hashem will forgive him (Sefer Kvod Shamayim, chapter 3).  A third idea is to provide physical benefits for the public, and pray to Hashem that the people whom he hurt in the past will partake of his generosity, thus earning a pardon for his prior averos towards them (R' Kanievsky, R' Zilberstein in Dirshu pg. 305).
  • If one spoke loshon hora about an entire group or city (causing them some measure of damage or pain), according to the Rambam one cannot fully atone for this type of averah, since there is no specific individual from whom to ask mechilah (Hilchos Teshuvah 4:3). According to R' Chaim Kanievsky, one should pray that the people forgive him of their own accord (Dirshu pg. 543, see LH X, 12).

Source: The Laws of Loshon Hora and Rechilus (Sefer Devash v'Chalav)

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