Question #1: Talkative Boss
“My boss likes to gossip, and much of it is loshon hora. Am I required to tell him that this is prohibited according to halacha?”
Question #2: Admonishing a talmid chacham
“I saw a highly respected scholar talking during the repetition of the shemoneh esrei. Should I say something to him?”
Question #3: Public Tochacha
“I know of situations where great scholars protested in public what people did, embarrassing them publicly. Is this a proper way to observe the mitzvah of tochacha?”
In this week’s parsha, Moshe admonishes a Jew for beating his fellow Jew, thus providing ample reason to continue our discussion on the mitzvah of tochacha, the Torah’s requirement to reprove someone for misbehavior. The two previous articles analyzed the basics of tochacha. We learned that the underlying principle of tochacha is the realization that fulfilling Hashem’s mitzvos is not merely an individual’s pursuit – it is a responsibility that I share with all of Klal Yisroel (see Sefer Hamitzvos #205). We are all members of the same people and share a common, collective mission.
In the previous articles, we also learned that, for tochacha to be successful, it must come from sincere caring about the person who has sinned, and should be conveyed in that tone. Tochacha should be presented in a way that is most likely to persuade the wrongdoer to mend his or her ways. We also learned that there are instances in which one should not admonish a sinner, such as when he/she does not realize that the action violates the Torah and it is clear that any reprimand will be ignored. On the other hand, we should note that the Chovos Halevovos (Shaar Cheshbon Hanefesh #17) quotes early sources (Shemos 2:13; Avodah Zarah 4a) that imply that, at times, one is required to protest, even when he knows that the offending party will not listen.
This article will discuss aspects of the mitzvah of tochacha that were not included in the previous essays, and with this information we will be able to answer our opening questions.
Someone who has wronged me
The mitzvah of tochacha applies when I was aggrieved by another person. If someone mistreated me, I may not resent, in silence, what that person did. This attitude violates the Torah’s prohibition of Lo sisna es achicha bilvavecha, “Do not hate your brother in your heart,” meaning, to bear the grudge in silence. Instead, there are two permitted courses of action from which I may choose:
1. I may tell the person that I am upset because he wronged me. This statement qualifies as a form of tochacha.
2. The other option is to forgive the evildoer for his ill-doing. This latter choice is the preferred course of action (Rambam, Hilchos Dei’os 6:9; see also Tosafos, Arachin 16b s.v. Va’anavah).
What is prohibited is for me to continue bearing a grudge silently against the person who perpetrated wrong against me. This is prohibited unless the person has the status of being a rosho, someone viewed as wicked according to halacha.
In the previous article, we discussed what the halacha is if you see a person doing something wrong for which you have previously rebuked him. Are you required to rebuke him again? The Gemara rules that one is required to rebuke an evildoer repeatedly (Bava Metzia 23a). However, we find a dispute among rishonim whether or not this law applies in all situations when one is required to rebuke an evildoer (see Magen Avraham 608:3; Orach Meisharim, page 159), or whether it applies only to someone with whom you have a very close relationship, such as a sibling or parent (Sefer Chassidim #413).
In a situation when the Torah requires one to reproach the sinner repeatedly, is there no limit at all to how many times one must rebuke him? What if the sinner gets so angry that he curses, or even strikes, the person censuring him? Is the mochiach required to continue reproaching, even though he may be subjecting himself to physical or emotional abuse?
The Gemara cites a dispute among the three great, early amora’im, Rav, Shmuel, and Rabbi Yochanan, concerning the point at which one may refrain from rebuking the sinner. All three amora’im concur that there is a point at which the mochiach should refrain from admonishing. According to Rabbi Yochanan, once the evildoer becomes so upset that he responds with a nasty retort, the mochiach may refrain from further reprimand. Shmuel contends that angering the sinner to this extent is not sufficient reason to stop the censure, but one should continue until the sinner curses the mochiach. Presumably, Shmuel feels that, at this point, nothing is gained by the tochacha, since it is now causing the wrongdoer to sin even more by cursing a fellow Jew. Rav disagrees, contending that even if one is cursed by the sinner, one should continue to rebuke him, until one is concerned that the sinner may become violent (Arachin 16b).
I mentioned above that some authorities contend that one should not repeatedly rebuke anyone with whom one does not have a close relationship. According to this opinion, the dispute of Rav, Shmuel, and Rabbi Yochanan concerns only a close relative or friend who is rebuking, where the halacha is that he should reproach the sinner repeatedly – until the sinner responds either by shouting nastily, by cursing, or by striking, depending upon which opinion one follows. However, according to those who dispute this conclusion and contend that one must repeatedly admonish any sinner, the amora’im are discussing anyone who reproaches a sinner.
In the previous article, we learned that one should admonish in a gentle, soft way that conveys the message, “I care for you deeply; this behavior is not in your best interest.” One should never initiate reproach in a harsh manner. However, this halacha applies only in the initial stages of reproaching someone. When the repeated offender’s sin is bein adam lamakom, between himself and Hashem, and positive approaches have been unsuccessful, the authorities rule that one is required to become harsh with the evildoer, even to the point of embarrassing him in public to get him to do teshuvah (Rambam, Hilchos Dei’os 6:8; Sefer Hachinuch #239).
The Rema (Yoreh Deah 334:48) and the Mahari Weill (#157) rule that the Torah does not require one to spend money to fulfill the mitzvah of tochacha. They extend this idea to include that one does not need to be mochiach someone who might hurt you physically or financially. Someone who is being mochiach is not required to endanger himself or lose money to fulfill the mitzvah. (This appears to follow the approach of the Sefer Chassidim that the dispute among amora’im concerning to what extent one is required to be mochiach applies only when one is being mochiach close relatives, but not to others.) An extension of this law is that you are not required to be mochiach someone who might hurt you physically or financially (Rema, Yoreh Deah 334:48; Levush, Yoreh Deah 157:1; see Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 157:5; cf., however, Teivas Gomeh, quoted by the above-mentioned Pischei Teshuvah, who disagrees.)
In the same context, the Darchei Teshuvah (157:20) quotes the following question in the name of the Tzemach Tzedek of Lubavitch: In a certain city, the local physician was a non-observant Jew. The question was whether there was a mitzvah to admonish him for his sins, knowing that such admonishment might cause him to relocate. This would endanger the populace, since they would now be without a physician to treat them. The Tzemach Tzedek ruled that they are not required to admonish him, since the result might imperil the community.
Admonishing the boss
At this point, we can address the first question we asked above:
“My boss likes to gossip, and much of it is loshon hora. Am I required to tell him that this is prohibited according to halacha?”
If the only concern here is the mitzvah of tochacha, it seems that there is no requirement to admonish one’s employer, if you are concerned that, as a result, he may fire you. However, there is probably a more serious question here: that of hearing loshon hora, since this boss probably enjoys sharing his gossip with you. There is discussion about such a shaylah in the sefer Chofeitz Chayim (Hilchos Loshon Hora 6:5). I refer the reader who has a specific question on this topic to his or her own rav or posek for a decision.
Even though one is not required to admonish the evildoer, one should be careful not to imply that his actions are acceptable. This would violate the prohibition of chanufah, usually translated as flattery, which is a very serious Torah violation.
The story of Agrippas
The following story demonstrates how serious this prohibition is. King Agrippas, who reigned towards the end of the Second Beis Hamikdash, was an excellent ruler, highly respectful of the Gedolei Torah of his era and committed to the observance and spreading of Torah and mitzvos. Notwithstanding his many good qualities, calling himself “King” over the Jewish People violated halacha, since he was descended from gentile slaves, and the Torah states, lo suchal laseis alecha ish nachri asher lo achicha hu, “You may not place over yourselves a gentile who is not your brother” (Devarim 17:15). Agrippas, himself, realized that he was not permitted to be king, for when he observed the hakheil ceremony in the Beis Hamikdash on Chol Hamoed Sukkos (see Devarim 31:10-13 and Mishnah, Sotah 41a), he stood up while reading the Torah rather than read it while sitting, since sitting in the Azarah section of the Beis Hamikdash is a special privilege permitted only to kings who are descendants of David Hamelech. When Agrippas reached the words of the Torah that prohibit appointing a king who is not a Jewish native, his eyes began to tear, for he realized that he, himself, was violating this law. At that moment, the Sages present told him, “Don’t worry, Agrippas. You are our brother,” thus approving his reign, in violation of the Torah.
The Gemara (Sotah 41b) teaches that the leaders of the Jews should have been destroyed for violating chanufah, and that, at that moment, many catastrophic occurrences befell the Jewish people, resulting in extensive loss of life. Although, under the circumstances, the Sages were not required to admonish Agrippas for being king, they were forbidden to give the impression that they approved of his being a monarch. They were required to remain silent (Tosafos, Sotah 41b s.v. oso), which would constitute a respectful disapproval.
The Chovos Halevovos (Shaar Cheshbon Hanefesh #17) expands this concept. Although we have enumerated many instances where one is not obligated to be mochiach, in each of these situations one is required to internalize strong disapproval of the violations that one observes. The Chovos Halevovos bases this idea on the words of David Hamelech: I hated the gathering of evildoers (Tehillim 26:5).
Admonishing a talmid chacham
If someone who is not scholarly sees a talmid chacham do something that appears to be halachically incorrect, what is the proper thing for him to do? Does the non-scholarly person have a mitzvah to admonish the Torah scholar for his lapse?
The halacha is that one is required to rebuke the talmid chacham, and that even a disciple has a responsibility to be mochiach his own rebbe (Bava Metzia 31a). There are halachic details for giving such tochacha. The easiest approach is for the student to ask his rebbe respectfully what is the halacha in the situation (that was ostensibly violated). In this way, the disciple neither acts nor speaks disrespectfully since he did not tell his rebbe that he had committed a violation. If, indeed, the rebbe was in violation of a halacha, it has now been brought to his attention in an appropriate way. It also may be true that the rebbe is aware of opinions who permit the action under the specific circumstances involved.
The Gemara (Shabbos 55a) provides an example of this: Rav Yehudah was listening to the Torah lecture of his rebbe, the great amora Shmuel, when a woman entered and began screaming at Shmuel. Shmuel ignored the woman and continued his teaching. Rav Yehudah turned to his master, asking him: Does the master not accept the teaching of Mishlei (21:13): “One who closes his ears from the outcry of the poor will not be answered when he calls out (in prayer).” If Shmuel felt that the verse in Mishlei did not apply in his circumstance, he could have explained to his disciple why this is so.
There is an interesting sequel to this story, based on the following Talmudic passage. The amora, Rav Yosef the son of Rav Yehoshua, had an out-of-body experience in which he saw elyonim lematah vetachtonim lemaaleh, meaning that he had a vision of olam haba and saw that things there are often the reverse of how they appear in this world. Rabbeinu Chananel records that there was an oral tradition from the ge’onim, passed from one generation to the next, that what Rav Yosef saw was that in olam haba Shmuel was studying and imbibing Torah from Rav Yehudah, notwithstanding the fact that, in this world, Rav Yehudah was Shmuel’s disciple. In the world to come, the great amora Shmuel is treated as Rav Yehudah’s disciple, because of this one instance in which Rav Yehudah taught Shmuel the proper way to act (Tosafos, Bava Basra 10b s.v. Elyonim).
Here is another example:
A talmid sees his rebbe speak during the repetition of the shemoneh esrei. It is correct for the talmid to ask his rebbe: “Didn’t we learn that one may not talk during the chazaras hashatz?” Framing the rebuke as a question is milder than saying to his rebbe directly: “It is forbidden to talk during chazaras hashatz.”
As we noted above, someone who sees a person talking during chazaras hashatz is required to feel tremendous love for this person, so much so that it pains him to realize that the talker will be punished for his misdeed. Then, the mochiach tries to figure out what will be the most effective way of communicating both these feelings and the message to the wrongdoer.
Did the talmid chacham do teshuvah?
The Gemara shares with us an interesting insight: One who observes that a talmid chacham did something wrong should assume, by the next day, that the talmid chacham has already done teshuvah for his sin (Brachos 19a). Although it is possible that, in the passion of the moment, the talmid chacham may have sinned, he will certainly regret his failure afterwards and will do teshuvah for it.
The halachic authorities ask the following question: Does this insight, that a day after witnessing his misdeed one should assume that the talmid chacham has already done teshuvah, have ramifications as to whether one should admonish the talmid chacham when one next sees him? Should one assume that the talmid chacham has already performed a complete teshuvah and that admonishing him at this point is no longer necessary or correct?
We find a dispute among the acharonim concerning this question. Some rule that one should assume that the talmid chacham did teshuvah already, and that there is no more reason to be mochiach him (Yad Ha’ketenah, as explained by Zeh Hashaar and Shevilei Chayim 4:20). Others contend that one should be mochiach, unless one knows that the talmid chacham has already done teshuvah (Be’er Mayim Chayim, Hilchos Loshon Hora 4:18).
The Gemara tells us the following pithy statement: A talmid chacham is beloved by the other residents of his city not because he is so wonderful, but because he fails to admonish them on heavenly matters (Kesubos 105b). As we mentioned above, when admonishing people for not being careful about matters between man and fellowman, one rebukes only in private. However, when one needs to reproach people for violating their responsibilities to Hashem, one may be required to rebuke them even in public.