Today’s learning is dedicated to the refuah sheleima of Simcha Nosson ben Zissel.
Although tokhachah (moral guidance and reproof) is extremely important, and it is incumbent upon every Jew to reprove his fellow Jew when he sees him acting incorrectly, as it is written (Leviticus 19:17), “You shall surely reprove your fellow,” nevertheless, not everyone is fit to offer moral guidance. As Rabbi Akiva said: I doubt if there is anyone in this generation who is capable of giving reproof (Arakhin 16b). And if Rabbi Akiva said this in his era, then it is all the more so now, in this current era. — Likutey Moharan II, 8:1
Previously, we discussed the importance of loving our fellow Jew. As the verse states, “And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Rebbe Nachman teaches that we can accomplish this by searching for the good in each other.
The proceeding verse states, “You shall surely reprove your fellow” (הוֹכֵ֤חַ תּוֹכִ֙יחַ֙ אֶת־עֲמִיתֶ֔ךָ). When we see a person sinning, we have an obligation to rebuke them so that they don’t continue transgressing in this manner.
However, as Rebbe Nachman cautions, we must be very careful before reprimanding another person. The verse reads in its entirety, “You shall not hate your brother in heart; you shall reprove your fellow and you shall not bear a sin because of him.”
Thus, the primary purpose for rebuking another person is to remove any contempt or disdain towards our fellow Jew. It was never intended to increase friction or harsh feelings towards one another.
We must also remember that we are expected to treat everyone with respect and dignity, regardless of their spiritual standing. As the verse states, “When you see the donkey of your enemy lying under its burden and would refrain from raising it, you must nevertheless raise it with him.” Our Sages explain that this is referring to one who is deemed an “enemy” based on his sins. Still, the verse commands us to offer a helping hand.
Commenting on the final words of the verse, “you shall not bear a sin because of him,” Rashi explains that when offering reproach, the person must ensure that he does not cause the other party any embarrassment publicly.
This is precisely why the commandment to rebuke our fellow Jew is immediately followed by the commandment to love our fellow Jew as ourselves; we must rebuke in the same manner we would wish for ourselves.
The rebuke must be conducive towards the other persons receptiveness. Otherwise, there is no benefit in criticizing another person’s misconduct. As the Talmud teaches, “Just as there is a mitzvah to say something which will be heard, so too there is a mitzvah not to say something which will not be heard… as it is written: ‘Do not rebuke a scoffer lest he hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you’ (Proverbs 9:8)” (Yevamos 65b).
Practically speaking, it would be wise to raise the person up rather than put them down. For example, instead of calling them a bad person or lowly, one should explain how special and important they are, and how the sin is merely beneath them.
In the lesson above, Rebbe Nachman teaches that improper rebuke can have a counterproductive effect, causing more harm than good.
As Reb Noson explains, the shame and insult caused by improper rebuke can easily push the person further away from the Torah and mitzvos. Therefore, concludes Reb Noson, it is far better to allow the person to continue sinning rather than cause them embarrassment (as stated in Rashi).
The Talmud states that the Torah can be an elixir of life or a potion of death. When Torah knowledge is used improperly, it can cause tremendous damage.
Unfortunately, there are people who make a conscious effort to seek out the flaws of others. As Rebbe Nachman warns, “There are people who do not have a good word for anyone. They always look for the bad side of people. They judge their fellow man unfavorably and constantly scrutinize other people’s shortcomings.” They forget that the purpose of rebuke is to draw us closer to each other, not to push us further away.
Rebbe Nachman encourages us to simply ignore such antagonists. This can be extremely difficult, but Rebbe Nachman assures us that the effort to remain silent pays tremendous dividends. He teaches, “If you find yourself in the middle of a dispute, it is very good if you can remain silent and pay no attention to the abuse that people throw at you. When you can hear what is said against you without answering back, this is true repentance. It is a remedy for all past sins. Someone who achieves this can truly be said to be wise. He will receive a share in the glory of Hashem and a goodly portion in the World to Come.”
(Of course, we are never expected to stay in an abusive or harsh environment. Rebbe Nachman encourages us to surround ourselves with positive influences. People who will support and strengthen us.)
When we are incapable of offering proper rebuke, we should rely on love to draw the person in. As Rebbe Nachman teaches, by finding the good in each person, we can move the person away from sin and bring them towards good.
Similarly, Rebbe Shneur Zalman of Liadi said, “There is only one way to draw people closer, and that is with thick cords of love.”
In our previous post, we quoted the Mishna in Perkei Avos that instructs us to judge every person favorably. The true Tzadikim understood how to properly offer rebuke while still judging everyone “on the scale of merit” as can be seen from the following story.
One Tishah B’Av, Reb Levi Yitchak of Berdichev came across a man who was eating. “My son, you have forgotten that today is Tishah B’Av, a fast day,” said Reb Levi Yitzchak. “No, Rebbe, I know it is Tishah B’Av,” replied the man. “Ah,” Reb Levi Yitzchak tried again, “your doctor told you that you may not fast.” To which the man responded, “Not so, Rebbe; I’m in perfect health.” Reb Levi Yitzchak turned his eyes toward Heaven. “Look, Ribbono shel Olam,” he exclaimed. “I gave this man opportunities to defend himself for eating on Tishah B’Av, but he refused to take advantage of them. He insists on being truthful. Isn’t it wonderful that Your children love the truth?”
By sincerely caring for each other, while showing proper respect and consideration, we create an everlasting and unbreakable bond between ourselves, Hashem and the Torah.
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