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The Music of Halacha: Rebuke: Case Study III

My friends and I work at a company with many people, including many non-Jews. We consciously work to act in a way that reflects the beauty of Judaism. Some of our coworkers have had unpleasant experiences with observant Jews and we want them to know that such experiences are the anomaly, not the norm.

We prepared with our Rebbi ‘s guidance for a company weekend conference to learn what we could share with others and the most appropriate way to present Shabbat to people unfamiliar with our lifestyle or Torah true Judaism. We agreed to meet with some coworkers in front of my house so that we could drive together to the conference.

One coworker showed up dressed in a manner she, in fact, in what most people would consider appropriate. However, my friends and I live in a Chassideshe neighborhood in which dress standards are far different from those in different communities.

Our plan was to quickly hop into the car and be on our way.

A woman, prominent in our community, saw the way our coworker was dressed and stormed into the street to demand that we immediately cover her up. Her son needed to go to an important appointment, and she would not allow him to step outside and see someone dressed inappropriately. She insisted that she had successfully protected him, with whom she struggles over many issues, his entire life and he had never seen a woman dressed immodestly. “You are making things worse for my son!”

We felt that her behavior contradicted all our efforts to make a Kiddush Hashem – A Sanctification of God’s Name – and was a Chilul Hashem, a desecration of His Name.

Our coworker heard the shouting and screaming and, although embarrassed and upset,  was willing to do whatever was necessary to defuse the situation. My friends and I immediately gathered round her so that the boy could not see her. She was not happy with the way we responded.

We did not know how to explain the situation to her in a positive light. What should we have done? Are we correct in being upset with the woman who made the scene? Shall we say something to her about the way she acted? There are people who regularly come to the neighborhood to work and they are not dressed according to her modesty standards. This woman never makes a scene or even protests when those people come to the neighborhood. We felt as if we were bearing the brunt of her issues with her son.

Thank you for submitting your case study for consideration through the eyes of The Music of Halacha. I am taking the liberty of addressing your case at great length in order to stress how many Halachot apply to normal interpersonal situations:

Since you raised the issue of Tochacha, or rebuke, I will begin with a powerful Talmudic   regarding rebuke; “Remove the beam of wood from between your eyes,” meaning, we must be certain of our behavior before we offer words of rebuke to another.

The best way to begin reviewing such situations is always to examine what we could have done differently to avoid the situation. You could have met somewhere other than a Chassideshe neighborhood. You could have explained to your coworker that you live in a neighborhood with very different dress standards, and that if she would come to you to meet up for the drive, ‘could she please respect the community’s standards and dress accordingly?’

“We did not know how to explain the situation to her in a positive light,” indicates the importance of taking pride in how we live, and respecting people’s commitment to living a certain way of life. It is easier to Sanctify God’s Name when we take pride in what we do. Rabbi Yechiel Bar Lev, the noted author of the Yedid Nefesh (commentary on both Talmuds and the Zohar,) and The Song of the Soul, tells of an experience of circling the Bimah on Hashana Rabbah with his Lulav and Etrog, when a person turned to him and said, “I am sure that if my banker saw me like this, he would think I am crazy!” Such a person cannot make a Kiddush Hashem. He, and many like him, believe that when people see us acting differently and think we are crazy or weird that we are making a Chilul Hashem. We are not! We sanctify God’s Holy Name each time we act according to His Will.

Even if a stranger does not understand why we live and act in certain ways, and assumes that we are crazy, we are sanctifying God’s Name.

All of you must consider why it was so difficult to describe our commitment to personal dignity with a sense of pride.

So far we have discussed the first stage of Tochacha, which is to first examine our behavior. We also pointed out that we need more clarity about the Mitzvah to Sanctify God’s Name. It is essential that we take pride in our commitment to our lifestyle.

We must now approach another important Mitzvah, which is, “Do not judge someone until you stand in his place.” This is rooted in the verse, “Judge your friend with righteousness.”

“We felt as if we were bearing the brunt of her issues with her son.” Even if your judgement is correct, you must first “stand in her shoes,” before judging her. We are not permitted to offer Tochacha, rebuke, until we have carefully and empathically, considered the other’s situation.

There is another stage of preparation to offer Tochacha: If a person has been hurt by another and finds resentment in his heart, he is biblically obligated to rebuke the one who hurt him, and say, “Why did you do…?” This law is learned from, “Do not hate your brother in your heart,” (but) “Rebuke your friend.” (See Rambam, Hilchot Dei’ot 6:6; Semag, Prohibition 5; Chinuch 239; Magen Avraham 156.) The Alei Shor (Volume II, page 240) wonders how it is that so many believe that it is preferable to remain silent rather than indicate to the other that he has the power to so hurt you!

If you find that your are resentful of this woman’s behavior, you have an additional Mitzvah to rebuke her in order to avoid hating another in your heart. I suggest that you review the story of Avshalom and Amnon and the disastrous results of unaddressed hatred. (Samuel II, Chapter 13)

You then must consider whether your rebuke will be because of her actions that hurt you, or for her “sin.” There are different Halachot regarding rebuke to avoid hatred and rebuke for a sin.

What are the differences?

What was her sin?

To Be Continued…

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