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    A good telling off – K’doshim

    “He gave it to them, didn’t he?” That’s what you hear on any occasion when a rabbi does some castigating. Not that the targets of the rebuke always feel so good about it.

    But castigation is in fact a Torah imperative. “You shall surely reprove your fellow and not bear sin because of him,” says this week’s portion (Lev. 19:17). Just as you would not wish to see someone in danger and stand idly by, so when a person is committing a transgression, or about to do so, it is an act of friendship to speak up.

    Giving a telling off is a Torah command, but there is a right and a wrong way to do it. The Talmud discusses the subject more than once. Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah wondered “if there is anyone in this generation who knows how to give a rebuke.” Rabbi Tarfon wondered “if there is anyone in this generation who accepts a rebuke, for if someone says to him, ‘Remove the mote from between your eyes’, he would retort, ‘Remove the beam from between your own eyes'” (Arachin 16b).

    Rabbi Elazar ben Shimon taught, “Just as a person is commanded to say that which will be heeded, so is one commanded not to say that which will not be heeded” (Yevamot 65b).

    There is an ethic of rebuke. If you yourself are not free from sin, you should not criticise someone else. It is better to remain silent if your rebuke will not be heeded or will cause hurt, harm, humiliation or even material loss. This applies even if the problem is that someone is openly flouting religious law or rejecting religious doctrine.

    The Chazon Ish says that instead of rebuking the non-observant or unbeliever, our duty is to love them all the more; the Torah warns, “You shall not hate your brother in your heart” before it speaks of uttering even a deserved rebuke (Lev. 19:17).

    One wonders, therefore, how some people can allow themselves to throw epithets like “apikoros! shaygetz! rasha!” at the less religious. It achieves nothing, and it harms the dignity and credibility of orthodoxy.

    There is a lesson to be learned from the fact that some Chassidic groups were against any type of preaching for fear that rabbis would abandon constructive teaching and be tempted to “give it to them”.

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