The Chofetz Chaim lists many prohibitions which one may transgress while speaking lashon hara (gossip), on top of the actual prohibition of lashon hara itself. These are not only interpersonal prohibitions (bein adam le’chaveiro) – there are also many prohibitions between man and G-d in the Chofetz Chaim’s list.
The list includes:
- Don’t be a slanderer
- Be careful not to get tzaraat
- Don’t place a stumbling block before the blind
- Don’t profane Hashem’s Name
- Remember what happened to Miriam
- Don’t hate your brother in your heart
- Don’t take revenge
- Don’t start a dispute/don’t be like Korach
- Don’t disgrace a Talmid Chacham
This gives a taste of just how serious the aveira of lashon hara is. The gemara in Arachin (15a) goes so far as to say that Hashem cannot dwell together in the world with a person who speaks lashon hara habitually.
The Chovot Halevavot warns that one who speaks lashon hara will be held accountable for the aveirot done by the victim of the lashon hara. Some say that this is only true about a person who spoke lashon hara repeatedly about another. The Az Nidberu writes that by doing teshuva, including asking for forgiveness if necessary, the aveirot return to their rightful place.
On the other hand, the Chofetz Chaim writes that someone who holds himself back from the temptation of speaking lashon hara will be rewarded very greatly by Hashem Himself. The Vilna Gaon goes even further: for every moment that one refrains from speaking lashon hara, he will be rewarded with the Ohr Haganuz (the “hidden light”) that even the ministering angels cannot imagine. (It seems clear that even if at the end the person does speak lashon hara, he will be greatly rewarded for the efforts he made to restrain himself.)
Even if a person may end up losing his livelihood as a result of not speaking or listening to lashon hara, it is still absolutely forbidden to speak or listen. As with any negative mitzvah in the Torah, one may not transgress at any cost. So too one must be willing to undergo embarrassment in order to avoid speaking or listening to lashon hara. As Chazal say, it’s better to appear a fool for his whole life (in this world) than to be evil in the eyes of Hashem.