A Moral Dilemma to Ask Your Family at the Shabbos Table: “The Mysterious Eavesdropper”

By Rabbi Yitzi Weiner

This week’s Torah portion begins with the purification process for one who has tzaras, a spiritual skin disease. One who has tzaras is called a Metzora. Our Sages (Vayikra Rabba 16) teach that the word Metzora is related to the term Motzie Ra, one who speaks evil. One can become a Metzora for being Motzie Ra, violating the prohibition of speaking Lashon Hara, negative or harmful gossip.

The following is a well known, true story but it contains a fascinating moral dilemma.

In Israel, two young friends, Rachel and Naomi were once travelling on a bus. Rachel told Naomi, “Did you hear that Adina just got engaged to a boy named Chaim Rothenberg? I feel really bad for that guy. Just wait till he sees how bad a cook she is”. Naomi responded, “Oh, and just wait till he finds out what a slob she is. I was with Adina in camp, and the room always looked like a pigsty because of her.” The two young women continued to discuss all kinds of nasty things about Adina. “I pity this fellow Chaim”,  Naomi said. “Yeah”, concurred Rachel.

Overhearing their conversation, a woman standing near them in the aisle turns around to them.  “Excuse me, I just want to express my sincere appreciation to both of you for your words.  You see, I am the mother of Chaim Rothenberg. As soon as I get home, I am going to make sure he breaks off the engagement immediately. “After all”, she said, “I don’t want my son to be ‘pitied’!”

The two women, Rachel and Naomi were in total shock. They realized the irreparable damage that their words had caused. They quickly told the woman that they were really exaggerating and that their words shouldn’t be taken seriously. The woman responded politely that she didn’t believe them and that they were only covering up because they didn’t want to be the cause of a broken engagement. ”I am truly grateful for this critical information and I still plan on breaking off the engagement”, she said.

The two girls now felt really terrible about what they had done and began to actually cry. Imagining being the cause of their friend’s broken engagement, they tearfully begged the woman not to believe what they had said. The woman seemed to be immune to their cries.

A few moments later, the woman pushed the “stop” button on the bus and got ready to exit the bus. As she started to descend off the bus, she turned to the two very distraught women and said. “By the way, I am not really Chaim’s mother and I can’t break the engagement. But I could have been.”

After experiencing the tremendous  damage that their seemingly meaningless conversation on the bus almost caused, the two young women were taught a lesson they would never forget.

Later however, the woman felt a bit conflicted over whether she did the right thing or not. On one hand,  she certainly taught the young women a powerful lesson about the potential damage of lashon hara. They likely would never gossip the same way again. She stopped their lashon hara, and they will likely be much more careful about lashon hara in the future.

But on the other hand, she really scared them, hurt their feelings and actually made them cry. She also told them something that was not true. She wondered if she was really allowed to cause them such pain and to lie in order to teach them an unforgettable lesson about lashon hara.

What do you think? According to Jewish law, did she do the right thing or not?

See Veharev Na Hebrew Edition Volume Three page 345

According to the opinion of Rabbi Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, although we do find an instance during the time of Joshua where soldiers first got a bris, and only afterwards went to battle, this would not apply nowadays. Alex should rather go to battle first, protect his fellow Jews, and get his bris afterwards. See Chashukie Chemed Yoma Page  681

A special thank you to Mr. Dave Snyder of Newton, Massachusetts for sponsoring the hardware that made this series possible!