Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried
Chapter 30: The Prohibition Against Talebearing, Slander, Vengeance and Bearing a Grudge.
It is written, "Do not be a talebearer among your people." What constitutes talebearing? It is carrying gossip and going from one to the other saying, "So and so said this...," "I have heard such and such about so and so." Even if [the tale he tells] is true, and it brings no disgrace to anyone it is, still, a violation of a negative commandment and it is a grave sin, which causes the death of Jewish people. Because of this the law against talebearing is followed by: [the verse] "Do not stand by the blood of your neighbor." Think about what happened in the case of Do'eg the Edomite, who told Shaul, that Achimelech gave David food and a sword. Even though the thing [he told] was true, and it did not reflect dishonor on Achimelech, for he had not done anything wrong, and even if Shaul himself had asked Achimelech he would have told him what he had done, for he had no intention to sin against Shaul. Despite this, the talebearing of Do'eg caused many kohanim to be killed.
There is a much graver sin [than tale bearing] which is classified under this prohibition and that is slander, which is, speaking of someone's shame, even if it is true. But a person who spreads lies [about others] is guilty of besmirching someone's name. A slanderer is a person who says, "So and so has done such and such; so and so were his parents; such and such a thing I heard about him," and he relates shameful things. Regarding such a person, Scripture states, "May Hashem cut off all smooth [talking] lips, the tongue that speaks haughty words." A person who accepts slanderous gossip is worse than the one who spreads it. The heavenly decree against our forefathers, in the wilderness was sealed, only because [they committed] the sin of slander.
To what length [must we go to avoid] slander? [For instance], if a man asks someone, "Where can I find fire?" and he replies, "[I'll tell you] where you can find fire. In the house of so and so where there is plenty of meat and fish, and they are always cooking [something]. [Even that is considered slander].
And there are [certain] statements which are milder nuances of slander. For example, if someone says: "Let's not talk about so and so; I do not want to tell what happened and what transpired," or words to that effect. Likewise, if you tell of someone's virtues in the presence of his enemies, this constitutes a milder nuance of slander, for this will prompt [his enemies] to tell derogatory things about him. Concerning this King Solomon said, "He that praises his friend with a loud voice when rising early in the morning, it will be counted as a curse to him," for [proclaiming] his virtues will cause him harm. Also when a person slanders in a jesting or jocular manner, as if he were not speaking out of hatred, [he is guilty of a milder form of slander]. King Solomon [referred to this] when he said in his wisdom, "As a man who pretends to play, and shoots firebrands, arrows, and death [so is this man who deceives his neighbor] and says "Look, I'm only joking." Equally [guilty] is a person who slanders with slyness, by pretending to speak innocently, [as if he were] unaware that [what he says] is slander, and when he is taken to task for it he says, "I did not know that this was slander" or "so and so [actually] did these things."
If someone relates lashon hara, regardless whether in the presence or in the absence of the other fellow, or if he tells things that would cause damage to someone else, either to his person, or to his property, or even if he only [intended] to annoy or to frighten him, that constitutes lashon hara [slander]. But if these things had already been told in the presence of three persons, it may be assumed that they have become known, and if one of the three persons tells them once more [to other people], it is not lashon hara, provided he did not [repeat it] with the intention to spread the rumor and give it added publicity. What procedure should a man follow to avoid falling into the trap of lashon hara? If he is a Torah scholar he should engross himself in the study of the Torah and if he is unlearned he should practice humility.
Rabbi Yirmiyah bar Abba said, "[The following] four categories [of people] will not see the Divine Presence [in the Hereafter]: scorners, flatterers, liars, and those who speak lashon hara (slanderers). Scorners [can be inferred], from the verse; "He withdraws His hand from scorners." (Rashi explains [mashach yado] the Holy One, blessed is He, pulls away His hand, [rejecting] the company of scorners). Flatterers, [can be inferred], from the verse, "A flatterer cannot come before Him." Liars [may be inferred], from the verse, "He who tells lies will have no place before My eyes." Those who speak lashon hara, from the verse, "You are not a God Who desires wickedness, evil will not abide with You." (Rashi explains [that the phrase] "Evil will not abide with You" refers to those who speak lashon hara, because it is written in this psalm "For there is no sincerity in their mouth...") [The Gemara concludes:] "Since you are a righteous God, no evil can abide in Your dwelling." Our Rabbis of blessed memory said furthermore, "All ridicule is forbidden except for ridiculing idol worship, for it is written, "And it happened at noon that Eliyahu mocked them."
Whoever takes revenge on someone, violates a negative commandment, for it is written, "Do not take revenge." And what constitutes vengeance? Reuvein says to Shimon, "Lend me your spade!" [Shimon] replies, "No, I will not lend it to you." The next day [Shimon] has to borrow something and he says [to Reuvein] "Lend me your spade." [Reuvein] says: "No, I will not lend it to you, just as you did not lend me [yours] when I asked you for it." This constitutes taking revenge, and he [Reuvein] has violated a negative commandment. Rather when [Shimon] comes to borrow something, he should give it to him wholeheartedly and not pay him back for what he did to him. It is becoming for a person to show forebearance in all mundane matters, for in the eyes of understanding people, they are all nothing but vanity and futility, and not worth taking revenge because of them. And thus said King David, peace be upon him, "If I have repaid my friends with evil, I who released my unprovoked adversary. (For the prohibition against uttering curses, see Chapter 6: 3).
If you [really] want to take revenge against your enemy, acquire more good qualities and walk in the path of righteousness. In so doing you will inevitably take vengeance against your enemy for he will be distressed over your good qualities, and he will be grieved over your good reputation. But if you [stoop to] do vile deeds, then your enemy will rejoice over your disgrace and your shame, and he is the one who takes revenge against you.
He who bears a grudge against a fellow Jew, violates a negative commandment, for it is said, "Don't bear a grudge against the children of your people." What constitutes bearing a grudge? [For example.] Reuvein said to Shimon: "Lend me that thing," and Shimon refused to lend it. After a while Shimon came to borrow something from Reuvein, and Reuvein said, "Take it, I will lend it to you for I am not like you, I will not repay you for what you did [to me]." He who does so violates the prohibition against bearing a grudge. He should blot it out of his heart and think no more of it. And this is the proper frame of mind by which society can survive and economic order between people [can be maintained].