Shoshana peered down from her perch on the upper bunk. Ahuva was sitting up in bed, as excited as Shoshana was that their parents had agreed to let Ahuva sleep over. There was a lag in the conversation between the two girls. Ahuva prodded her giddy, sleep deprived brain, eager to find some bit of information that would keep up the party atmosphere. Then it came to her.
“You know how everyone thinks that Miriam is such a nice person,” Ahuva began. “I know someone who was in elementary school with her, and she told me that Miriam used to pick fights with other kids every day at recess! She had her own seat in the principal’s office.”
Shoshana giggled. Ahuva was delighted with the reaction. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before both girls gave in to the pull of their increasingly heavy eyelids. The sun rose bright and early, and Ahuva and Shoshana rose several hours later. As Ahuva brushed her teeth, she thought over her late night conversation. Then it came to her. Miriam! She had said something really nasty about Miriam which was probably – definitely… lashon hara (derogatory or damaging speech).
Ahuva reviewed the steps of teshuva (repentance). Admit the sin. Check. Regret the sin. Check. Resolve not to commit the sin again. Check. But wait, that would be enough for a sin between a person and Hashem. But for sins committed against another person, there is another step in the process – the requirement to ask the person for forgiveness.
Does Ahuva have to ask Miriam for forgiveness? Or is it better that Miriam not find out that someone spoke badly about her?
Answer of my teacher, Rabbi Avraham Shapiro, zt”l:
The Chafetz Chaim wrote ((כלל ד, סימן יב, על פי השערי תשובה)) that a person who spoke lashon hara about his friend must inform the friend of this, and seek forgiveness. As is well known, Rabbi Yisrael Salanter felt that it was better not to inform the subject of the gossip, as this would cause more harm than good. Even if the victim forgives the offender, such a confession would cause a blemish in a formerly healthy friendship. Additionally, the victim would be pained at the knowledge that someone spoke badly of him to someone else. It is important to note that maintaining friendships is a mitzva. (See Magen Avraham siman 248).
In practice, it seems that there are two different levels of lashon hara:
2) Lashon hara which causes damage to the subject. The speaker has the status of chovel or mazik (one who causes damage). In such a situation, the need to request forgiveness overrides the concerns for preservation of friendship, and the speaker should approach the victim and ask his forgiveness.
There is room to say that it is sufficient to request forgiveness in a general way, without specifically mentioning the lashon hara. The language of the Jerusalem Talmud is that “one who sinned against his friend must tell him that he hurt him.” There is no reason to suspect that the victim would not forgive the offender if he knew that the offender had spoken lashon hara about him, because a person is required to forgive someone who genuinely requests forgiveness.
(ע"פ הספר מקראי קודש על יום כיפור של הגאון הרב משה הררי שליט"א)