The Music of Halacha: Rebuke Part Two: Tidying Up The Mess
The previous essay focused on Halacha’s demand that we recognize the inner stimulus to rebuke another. “Rebuke is all too often a way to express our own frustration.” Perhaps La Rouchefoucauld was right when he wrote that friendship was “a mere traffic, wherein self-love always proposes to be a gainer.”
Halacha appreciates the powerful role friendship and rebuke can play in introspection:
We listed a number of Mitzvot/Concepts that reflect this idea in the introductory essay to this series:
“They will stumble over one another.” (Leviticus 26:37) The Talmud explains that this verse obligates us in mutual responsibility: “All of Israel is responsible for one another.” (Sanhedrin 27b) This obligation to stop someone from sinning is only for a negative commandment and does not obligate us to push someone to fulfill a positive Mitzvah. (Ginat Veradim, Orach Chaim 3:15)
“You shall love your friend as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18)
“You shall copy the ways of God.” (Deuteronomy 22:9) This verse obligates us to help each other.
Each of these Mitzvot/Concepts reminds us of the internal process that is involved while just considering offering rebuke. The English philosopher, Michael Oakshott writes that “to discard friends because they do not behave as we expected and refuse to be educated to our requirements is the conduct of a man who has altogether mistaken the character of friendships.” These Halachot speak of friendship as a process of developing our own character and spiritual lives.
The Baal Shem Tov is said to have always immediately examined his own actions when he witnessed another sinning. He believed that if he saw a person violate Shabbat that he must have “violated” the Shabbat himself. The founder of Chassidut understood that even the glimpse of another’s fault was first an opportunity for self-examination.
Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer kept the following verse on his desk: “Let your eyes look ahead, and your eyelids will direct your path.” (Proverbs 4:25) He understood the verse to mean that if your eyes see something wrong in the person before you – ahead – you must focus your vision – eyelids – on yourself. He would glance at the verse whenever he was disturbed by the behavior of the person facing him.
“He is a worthless man,” says Hesiod, in Works and Days, ‘who makes now one and now another his friend.” We are less likely to let go of a friendship rather than repair it when we appreciate this priceless benefit of friendship.