Parsha Mitzvot: Vayechi: Rebuke
Many of Jacob’s blessings of his sons included words of rebuke. He chose to wait until just before his death to rebuke his sons, for fear that they would be so insulted that they would leave him and join his brother, Eisav. What are the laws of rebuke?
“How could you do such a thing?” No, that doesn’t work. “I admire so much about you, but…” That also won’t work: The second the other person hears the “but” they will be defensive. How can we do it?
I recently posted a blog: “The Violence of Silence” and people asked for direction in offering Tochacha – Rebuke, which is Mitzvah/Concept #16. Our Brooklyn study group, which focuses on interpersonal relationships, recently discussed how to tell a friend that his behavior is self-destructive. Someone else asked me how to speak to someone who, because it is so painful for him to watch his mother deteriorate, has chosen to avoid her.
Each case is different. I am unaware of any magic formulas to rebuke or correct someone in a manner that can be heard. Even during Talmudic times the Sages wondered if anyone was skilled enough to offer productive words of rebuke. As they say: “If criticism worked, every husband/wife/child/student in the world would be perfect!”
This essay will introduce the basic laws and obligations of Tochacha. I was shocked to realize how many biblical obligations are involved in rebuke:
I. “You shall reprove your fellow.” (Leviticus 19:17, Bava Metzia 31a, Arichin 16b)
II. “Do not bear a sin because of him.” (Leviticus 19:17 according to Rabbeinu Yonah; Sha’arei Teshuva – The Gates of Repentance 3:72. See too, Rashi on Numbers 30:16) One who can stop another from sinning and does not is also liable for the sin. Some authorities hold that the responsibility is not for a passive sin, but the person who chose to remain silent is actually considered to have actively sinned. (Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman based on Tosafot, Shavuot 30b)
III. “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)
IV. “You shall destroy the evil from your midst.” (Deuteronomy 13:6) Those who are in position to protest, but do not do so, in whose mouths there is no rebuke, are going against this verse. (The Gates of Repentance 3:195, The Ways of the Righteous: The Gate of Flattery)
V. “You shall not bring guilt upon the land.” (Numbers 35:34) If someone refrains from rebuking because they want the other to like them, he is violating the prohibition of false flattery (The Gates of Repentance)
VI. “You shall love your friend as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18)
VII. “You shall copy the ways of God.” (Deuteronomy 22:9) This verse obligates us to help each other.
VIII. “You shall not stand aside while your brother’s blood is shed.” (Leviticus 19:16) We certainly cannot stand aside while someone forfeits his eternal portion in the World to Come.
IX. “You shall surely return them (lost objects) to your brother.” (Deuteronomy 22:1) We are surely obligated to restore a soul. (Minchat Chinuch 239; S’dei Chemed: Ma’arechet “Hey”)
X. “You shall not place a stumbling block before the blind.” (Leviticus 19:14, according to the Gra: Yoreh Deah 295:4; The Emek Sh’eilah 92; The Pri Megadim 443 & 444)
XI. One who hesitates to rebuke because of fear violates: “You shall not tremble before any person.” (Deuteronomy 1:17