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Presumed Confidentiality

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VaYikra – Parshat HaChodesh

 Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Nissan

The Meaning and Practical Application of the Word Leimor
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The Torah portion of Vayikra (and indeed, the entire book of Vayikra) begins with the verse “And He called to Moses, and the L-rd spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying (leimor/לאמֹר).”[1]Based on the word “leimor – saying,” the Talmud says[2] that if one tells someone else something, the listener should assume that the information is private. He should therefore not repeat it to a third party unless given explicit permission to do so by the purveyor of the information.
The Mei’ri explains that even when one does not specify that the information he is sharing is confidential, the listener should assume that it is, as the wise King Solomon said, “He who reveals secrets is a talebearer, but one who is of faithful spirit conceals a matter.” This means that one who reveals an actual secret is considered a talebearer. But a trustworthy person conceals all matters even when it was not shared as a secret per se.
The Ritva adds that although all the Jewish people heard G-d calling Moshe to enter the Ohel Mo’ed,[3] the actual conversation was private and would have had to be kept confidential had G-d not instructed Moshe otherwise.
The Meaning of Leimor
There are various ways of understanding how the Talmud derives the above lesson from the word “leimor – saying.”
  • Rashi explains that the word leimor can be understood as a composite of “lo amor – do not say it.”[4] Thus the verse is saying that G-d said to Moshe that as a general rule one may not share private discussions with others. But in this case he was allowed (and supposed) to share it, as the verse continues, “Speak to the children of Israel and say to them.”[5]
  • The Me’iri explains that the word “leimor” means that G-d specifically instructed Moshe to teach these laws to the Jewish people. Since the very next verse states, “Speak to the children of Israel and say to them,” the word leimor seems to be superfluous. However, the reason it is written is to teach us that, had G-d not told Moshe to repeat the teaching, he would have been forbidden to do so.[6]
Why Now?
The word leimor is found many times in the Torah before this Torah portion.[7] As such, the commentaries wonder why the above lesson is not learned from previous verses but specifically from this one.
The Maharsha explains that this lesson can only be taught from our verse (and several others) where, in addition to leimor, the Torah explicitly says, “Speak to the children of Israel and say to them.” In the cases where it does not say this, the word leimor is not superfluous and so does not teach us the above lesson.
In addition, up until the Jewish people accepted the Torah, the word leimor can be understood to mean that G-d was asking Moshe to inform him as to whether the Jewish people had accepted that particular mitzvah or not.[8]
Why Repeat Leimor?
When the Torah uses the phrase, “And G-d spoke to Moshe leimor” in other mitzvot (whether before or after the beginning of this Torah portion) the word leimor simply means that G-d was instructing Moshe to give over that mitzvah to the Jewish people, and it does not teach us any specific law.[9]
In addition, the Talmud says[10] that according to Rabbi Yehudah, in some cases the word leimor alerts us that the upcoming mitzvah includes a negative commandment (lo ta’aseh).[11]
The Reasons
There are three reasons given as to why one should not divulge information told to him unless he was given permission.
  • It may, in some (possibly unforeseeable) way, cause harm to the person who gave him the information.[12]
  • It is a good habit to accustom ourselves not to talk about other people’s affairs.[13]
  • Since the person didn’t give permission for the information to be shared, he may have a reason that he wants it kept secret, even if disclosing it will not actually harm him.[14]
The last two reasons explain why Moshe would not have been allowed to reveal the mitzvot to the Jewish people had G-d not instructed him to do so. Although obviously G-d would not (and can never) be harmed from Moshe’s teaching the mitzvot to the Jewish people, G-d was still teaching him a good practice -not to reveal information without permission. In addition, had G-d not permitted him explicitly to share the mitzvot, Moshe would have had to believe that G-d may have a (hidden) reason for not wanting the information shared.
The Parameters
  • Even When No Harm Is Caused
The Chafetz Chaim explains[15] that in a case where divulging a private conversation might cause embarrassment or damage to the one who spoke, it is certainly forbidden to repeat that information based on the principle of Rechilut (talebearing). The point of this teaching is that even if revealing the information will not harm the person at all, it is still a good practice (midah tovah) not to reveal it so that we accustom ourselves not to talk about other people’s affairs.
  • When Shared in a Private Manner
Alternatively, it’s possible that in a case where revealing the information will not harm the person at all, it is only forbidden if the information was shared in a private setting in which case one must suspect that for some reason the person would like the information to remain confidential. This was the case in this Torah portion where G-d called (only) Moshe and spoke to him in the privacy of the Ohel Mo’ed (Tent of Meeting).[16]
The Chafetz Chaim rules that in a case where the person shared the information in front of a group of three people, the listeners may tell it to others unless they were specifically instructed not to do so. By disclosing it to a group, the person clearly indicated that he doesn’t mind if the matter becomes public knowledge.
Revealing Secrets
Rabeinu Yonah writes,[17] “One must conceal a secret told him by a friend in confidence even if revealing the secret would not be considered talebearing (as it would cause no apparent harm to the person). The reason is that revealing a secret causes (unknown) damage to the person and ruins his plans, as the verse says, ‘Plans are foiled by secrets that are not kept.'”[18]
“Secondly, revealing a secret is not proper etiquette as it goes against the will of the ba’al sod (person who shared the secret), as (King) Solomon of blessed memory said, ‘One who divulges secrets (is) one who gossips.’[19] This means that if you see someone who cannot control himself and guard his tongue from revealing a secret, even if uncovering that secret is not considered talebearing from one person to the other (as it isn’t harmful per se), his behavior will cause him to be among the talebearers… since (he has shown) that his lips are not under his control.”
“Additionally, he [King Solomon] said, ‘He who reveals secrets is a talebearer.’[20] This teaches us that a person shouldn’t trust his secret with a talebearer. Since such a person does not guard his lips from talebearing, one cannot trust him to keep a secret. This is true even if you specifically instruct him to keep the matter in confidence.”
In Halacha
The teaching that all matters must be assumed to be confidential is codified in Halacha by the following poskim (Halachic Deciders):
  • Rabbi Moshe of Coucy in his Sefer Mitzvot Gadol, negative commandment, number 9.
  • The Magen Avraham in his Commentary on Orach Chaim (156:2).
  • The Alter Rebbe in his Shulchan Aruch (156:14)
Examples
Rabbi Moshe Dov Velner, Rav of Ashkelon, writes[21] that based on the above halacha, one may not “steal” Torah novella that a Torah scholar wrote in his private notes and publicize it. Since the Torah scholar did not give permission to reveal that matter, it must be assumed that for whatever reason, he doesn’t want his Torah insight publicized. Publicizing it without permission may also lead to the embarrassment of the Torah scholar as he may want to one day share that Torah thought as his own novel insight and the listeners will have already heard it from someone else.[22]
Taping a Torah Lesson Without Permission
Reb Moshe Feinstein writes[23] that if a rabbi is giving a Torah lesson and asks that his words not be recorded, the students must adhere to this request.
Reb Moshe explains that there may be many reasons for this request.
  • Some of his teachings may be inappropriate to share with certain people.
  • Some of the lesson may apply only in certain situations and shouldn’t be (mistakenly) taken as a general rule.
  • The rabbi may be unsure if his ruling is Halachically accurate. He may therefore want to review the matter before it becomes public knowledge. Whereas once it is on tape, it may be publicized, and when he realizes that it is inaccurate, it will be difficult to retract.
Despite this, Rabbi Feinstein ruled that the students may make a recording which they may listen to once or twice to review the lesson. They must then destroy it so that it not become public knowledge.
May we Merit to Earn and Maintain the Confidence of Our Friends!
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and a Chodesh Tov!

[1] Levit, 1:1
[2] Yoma 4b
[3] See Midrash HaGadol, cited in Torah Shleimah on the verse. But see Rashi
[4] See also Pesachim, 42a where the Talmud explains leimor to mean this.
[5] See Biurei Maharshal on the Semag, Mitzvat lo ta’aseh, 9
[6] Me’iri
[7] See Exodus 12:1, 13:1, 14:1, 16:11, 20:1, 25:1, 30:11 17 and 22, and 31:1 and 12.
[8] See Exodus 19:8. Whereas after the Torah was given, we became obligated to keep everything whether or not we agree.
[9] See Rashi D.H. Vaydaber Oleh, Megillah 21b that “there is nothing to be learned” from the verse Vayedaber Hashem el Moshe leimor.
But see She’iltot of Rabbi Achai Gaon, 28 who quotes this teaching on several other verses that say leimor. The Ha’amek Shalah (by the Rabbi Naftaly Tzi Berlin) explains that according to the She’iltot, the repetition of the word leimor by every mitzvah is to give permission to Moshe to teach that mitzvah to the Jewish people.
[10] Pesachim, 42a
[11] But see the Mishnah LaMelech (Hilchot Erkin, 5:6) that the sages disagree with Rabbi Yehudah regarding this. See the Responsa of the Chatam Sofer, (O.C., 124, D.H. Vehinei), based on the Kesef Mishnah (Hilchot Erkin, ibid) that the halacha follows Rabbi Yehudah in this matter.
The Mahari Assad (in his Responsa Yehuda Ya’aleh, 19), however, writes that the Rambam does not rule in accordance with Rabbi Yehudah and that, based on this ruling, he also leaves out the teaching that all matters that are shared are presumed confidential. Since this ruling is based on the interpretation of Rabbi Yehudah on the word leimor which is not the final halacha.
[12] See the Me’iri (quoted above) who associates this matter with Rechilut – talebearing.
[13] See the Chafetz Chaim, cited in note 15
[14] Rabbi Asher Tolidano in Mital HaShamayim on the book of Vayikra (Jerusalem 2012), page 222
[15] Hilchot Lashon Hara, end of Klal 2, Be’er Mayim Chayim, 27
[16] See Biurei Maharshal ibid
[17] Sha’arei Teshuvah, Sha’ar 3, ot 225
[18] Proverbs, 15:22
[19] Ibid, 20:19
[20] Ibid, 11:13
[21] She’ilat Chemdat Tzvi, vol. 3, 35
[22] In fact, there are many chidushei torah (Torah novella) printed from the handwritten notes of Torah scholars after they pass away. Perhaps it is assumed that the authors, at that point, would want their works published in order to add to their merit in the next world.
[23] Igrot Moshe, vol. 7, O.C. 40:19
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom Umevorach and a Chodesh Tov!

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