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Special Tochacha Situations

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?”

Answer:

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.

Repeat offender

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.

Becoming harsh

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).

Other limitations

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.

Tacit approval

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).

Conclusion

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.




More on Tochachah

Question #1: Un-coifed Colleague

“A colleague at work who does not cover her hair asked me what I think of her new hairstyle.  How should I answer?”

Question #2: Wayward Classmate

“I met my former classmate, and I see that she is no longer observing the level of tzeniyus that we did when we were together in seminary. Must I say something to her about this?”

Question #3: The Davening Talker

“I find it disturbing to see people talking or whispering during chazaras hashatz, the repetition of the tefillah, but I must admit that sometimes I’ll answer someone who asks me something during that part of the davening. Do I have a responsibility to tell people that they should not talk during chazaras hashatz?”

Answer:

In this week’s parsha, Yaakov avinu admonishes his sons prior to his passing. Last week, we noted that when Yosef said ani Yosef, ha’od avi chai? “I am Yosef. Is my father still alive,” he was admonishing his brothers for their inconsistent behavior. This provided an to discuss the laws of tochachah, which continues in the present article.

As I mentioned last week, the underlying principle of tochachah is the realization that fulfilling Hashem’s mitzvos is not merely an individual pursuit – it is a responsibility that one shares with all of Klal Yisroel (see Sefer Hamitzvos #205). We also learned that the mitzvah of tochachah applies whether the sin perpetrated is between man and his fellowman or whether it is between man and Hashem (Sefer Hachinuch #239). In addition, we noted that the most basic rule of tochachah is that the mochiach, the person who is reproving, must truly care for the offender.

On the other hand, the halachah is that when it is clear that a sinner will ignore any reprimand, one should not attempt to admonish him. In these instances, censure will cause the evildoer to sin more, rather than to do teshuvah, and, therefore, it must be avoided. However, only when it is absolutely certain that the sinner will not listen, is there no mitzvah either to rebuke or to protest. As long as the possibility exists that the sinner might listen, one is required to rebuke him.

Someone who rejects Torah

There is no mitzvah to admonish an evil person who hates those who observe Torah (Tanna debei Eliyahu Rabbah, Chapter 18). When the Torah presents this mitzvah, it states, hochei’ach tochiach es amisecha, “surely, rebuke your ‘fellowman,’” but the word used, amisecha, refers to someone who observes Torah and mitzvos. The Mishnah Berurah rules that there is no mitzvah to reproach someone who desecrates Shabbos in public or who eats non-kosher when he has kosher food readily available – such a person is beyond the pale of being called amisecha. The Mishnah Berurah is uncertain whether there is a mitzvah to admonish someone who observes Shabbos, but keeps kosher only when it is convenient to do so, or someone who observes Shabbos in public, but desecrates it in private (Biur Halachah, 608:2 s.v aval; however, see Shu’t Avnei Neizer, Yoreh Deah #461, who understands that, in all these instances, there is still a mitzvah of tochachah).

 

Rebuking a Torah scholar

There is a dispute among acharonim whether admonishing a talmid chacham applies after he did the aveirah. Perhaps one should assume that he did teshuvah already and that, therefore, there is no more reason to be mochiach him. This latter approach is that of the Yad Haketenah as explained by the Zeh Hashaar and the Shevilei Chayim 4:20. The Be’er Mayim Chayim ((Hilchos Loshon Hora 4:18) does not agree and contends that one should be mochiach, unless one knows that the talmid chacham did teshuvah.

Mutav sheyihyu shogagin

Last week, we learned that one should not reprimand someone who commits a violation that he is unaware is forbidden, when one is certain that he will continue after the prohibition is called to his attention. This is usually the proper approach to follow when a sizable population does something that is clearly forbidden (Biur Halachah, 608:2 s.v. Vedavka, quoting Shu’t Me’il Tzedakah #19 and Machatzis Hashekel).

What if he asks?

Many years ago, I was among a group of married women who, although observant, did not cover their hair. Because of the halachah of mutav, I was not permitted to discuss this question with the group. However, when a woman from this group asked me to explain the halachah, I was required to answer the halachah accurately and in full detail (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:36). The halachah of mutav applies only in a situation of tochachah. Furthermore, the Maharshal demonstrates that one may never distort a detail of the Torah, since this is considered falsifying the Torah. He rules that this is considered a severe enough prohibition of the Torah that it is yaharog ve’al yaavor – one is required to give up one’s life rather than to distort even one law of the Torah (Yam shel Shlomoh, Bava Kama 4:9). Falsifying the Torah is equivalent to denying the entire Torah, which is why one is required to sacrifice one’s life, rather than misrepresenting a Torah truth.

Probably won’t listen

Should one reproach an ill-doer when one knows that he probably will not listen? The halachah of mutav applies only when one is certain that the offending party will not listen. When one thinks that he will probably not listen, but it is not certain, one is required to admonish the offender (Tosafos, Bava Basra 60b s.v. Mutav).

Clearly in the Torah

Are there any instances when tochachah should be given and the rule of mutav does not apply, even when the person doing something forbidden will not listen to tochachah? Yes, there are.

The rishonim dispute whether the law of mutav applies even when the prohibition is written unmistakably in the Torah. Many rishonim contend that when the Torah overtly prohibits the activity, there is an exception to the law of mutav. In this instance, these authorities contend that one is required to rebuke those who violate this prohibition, even when the lack of concern about the prohibition is quite common. Others contend that when you are certain that the wrongdoer will ignore the admonition, you are not required to rebuke, even when the prohibition is distinctly delineated in the Torah. (Both opinions are quoted in Biur Halachah 608:2 s.v. Aval.) The Rema (Orach Chayim 608:2) concludes that one is required to admonish, in accordance with the first opinion.

Some authorities contend that this law applies only when we are in a position to stop the evildoers from their errors, but that there is no requirement to protest when we cannot prevent sinners, even when the prohibition is written overtly in the Torah (Birkei Yosef, Orach Chayim 608:4). Others contend that, under these circumstances, one will not be punished for not having protested, but there is still a mitzvah to protest the misdeed (Magen Avraham 608::3, quoting Semaq).

Maybe it is clear

Assuming that we follow the Rema and rule that one is always required to rebuke someone violating a prohibition that is explicitly expressed in the Torah, there is a further dispute among authorities whether the rule of mutav applies when it is questionable if the sinner will be violating a Torah law, such as someone who violates Shabbos during the bein hashemashos period when it is questionable if Shabbos has already begun. The Yam shel Shlomoh (Beitzah 4:2) rules that the rules of mutav apply, whereas the Machatzis Hashekel (on Magen Avraham 608:2) is uncertain whether mutav applies in this situation.

Ruled in error

Similarly, there is no mitzvah to admonish someone who received a clearly erroneous ruling permitting a particular activity, since he will not listen. However, once the person who issued the decision recanted it, Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that there is now a mitzvah of tochachah, since the possibility exists that the errant party may now listen to reason or re-ask the question (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Even Ha’ezer 4:61:2 s.v.Ulefi zeh).

Repeat offender

What is the halachah if you see someone do something wrong for which you have previously rebuked him in a soft, kind way, as described above. Are you required to rebuke him again?

The Gemara rules that one is required to rebuke an evildoer repeatedly (Bava Metzia 23a). Nevertheless, we find a dispute among rishonim whether or not this law applies in all situations where one is required to be mochiach. The Sefer Chasidim explains that this Gemara is discussing someone with whom you have a very close relationship, such as your brother or parent. Such a person will not begin to hate you if you admonish him repeatedly for his sinful behavior, and, therefore, there is no limit to the number of times that you must rebuke him. However, in the opinion of the Sefer Chasidim, one should not admonish repeatedly someone with whom there is not such a close relationship — out of concern that repeating the rebuke may cause him to hate you (Sefer Chasidim #413, quoted by Magen Avraham 608:3).

It appears that most authorities do not accept this distinction of the Sefer Chasidim, but rather rule that whenever I have a mitzvah to rebuke someone, I must do so repeatedly (see Magen Avraham 608:3; Orach Meisharim, page 159).

Who is a true friend?

At this point, we can address one of the questions we asked above: “I met my former classmate, and I see that she is no longer observing the level of tzeniyus that we did when we were together in seminary. Must I say something to her about this?”

Under most circumstances, one is required to think of the most effective way that would get the classmate to realize that she is harming herself, and to figure out how to present this to her in an effective and loving fashion. Even if one is unsuccessful, the mitzvah of tochachah is fulfilled.

Upon this basis, we can appreciate the following statement of Chazal:

If you have two groups of friends, one which praises you and the other which admonishes you, love the admonishers and despise those who praise you, because the admonishers will bring you to eternal life (Avos derabbi Nosson 29:1, quoted in Shaarei Teshuvah 3:292).

Straighten yourself first

What is the halachah if I see someone do something wrong, but I know that I myself sometimes slip and violate this law? Does my somewhat lackadaisical attitude towards this halachah exempt me from the requirement of reproaching someone else for its violation?

The halachah here is very straightforward: I cannot effectively rebuke someone for something that I myself violate, but, at the same time, this does not exempt me from the requirement of reproaching him. As we are all aware, one cannot influence someone else to be careful about behavior that one does not, himself, observe. Therefore, one has no choice but to stop his own incorrect behavior, and then, after one has done teshuvah for it, one should be mochiach the person who is still violating it. The Gemara records this ruling in the following pithy way: Straighten out yourself, and then proceed to straighten out others (Sanhedrin 18a). Actually, this idea predates the Gemara: The prophet Tzefaniah 2:1 had already pointed out that one has a responsibility to straighten out his own actions, so as to be able to reproach others for their shortcomings.

At this point, we can address the third question raised at the beginning of our article:

“I find it disturbing to see people talking or whispering during chazaras hashatz, the repetition of the tefillah, but I must admit that, sometimes I’ll answer someone who asks me something during that part of the davening. Do I have a responsibility to tell people that they should not talk during chazaras hashatz?”

The halachah is very clear: The individual asking must work on himself not to talk during the chazaras hashatz, both because of the halachah that requires this and because of the mitzvah of tochachah that he violates when he is unable to reproach people for this transgression.

Tochachah for gentiles?

We now understand why the mitzvah of the Torah does not include a commandment to rebuke gentiles. That some prophets were instructed to admonish the gentiles for their ill behavior was not part of the Torah’s regular mitzvah of tochacha, but a special commandment that these prophets received as part of their prophecy.

Conclusion

As I mentioned above, the basis of the mitzvah of tochachah is that my role in observing mitzvos is as a member of Klal Yisroel –and that I carry responsibility for my brethren at all times. It is insufficient for me to feel that I am minding my own garden when there are other Jews who are distant from our Father. I should always think of ways to help them return to the protective guidance of Hakadosh Baruch Hu.




Essentials of Tochachah

Question #1: Cross-gender Tochachah

“The Mishnah states that a man should not converse unnecessarily with a woman. At my workplace, there is a girl who is ostensibly observant, but I see inconsistencies in her observance level. Am I supposed to try to help her become more committed?”

Question #2: Ignored Admonition

“Is there a mitzvah to admonish someone when I know that he will ignore me?”

Question #3: Admonisher or Enemy?

“I know that there is a mitzvah to be mochiach, but I am always concerned that I will make these people into my enemies. Should I be concerned?”

Answer:

In this week’s parshah, Yosef reveals himself to his brothers, by saying the immortal words, ani Yosef, ha’od avi chai? “I am Yosef. Is my father still alive?” According to many commentaries (Ha’amek Davar, based on Chagigah 4b), Yosef intended these words as admonition, tochachah, to his brothers: Why are you suddenly concerned about how your father will react to Binyomin’s disappearance, when you were not concerned how he would react to my disappearance?[1] This provides an excellent opportunity to discuss the laws of tochachah, the requirement to reprove someone for misbehavior, a frequently misunderstood mitzvah.

The underlying principle of tochachah is the realization that fulfilling Hashem’s mitzvos is not merely an individual pursuit – it is a responsibility that I share with all of Klal Yisroel (see Sefer Hamitzvos #205). In explaining the reason for the mitzvah of tochachah, the Shaarei Teshuvah (3:19) notes that a devoted servant or employee performs his own work diligently and also tries to see that his co-workers do their jobs conscientiously. We are all members of the same people and share a common, collective mission.

The mitzvah of tochachah applies whether the sin perpetrated is between man and his fellowman or whether it is between man and Hashem (Sefer Hachinuch #239). Furthermore, the mitzvah applies equally to men and women – both have a requirement to be mochiach, and both should be admonished when they violate the Torah (Sefer Hachinuch #239). In addition, tochachah is a mitzvah that one should fulfill cross-gender; that is, a man is required to be mochiach a woman, and a woman is required to be mochichah a man. We can demonstrate this principle through the following passage:

Eili and Channah

The pasuk describes how Channah went to Shiloh, the location of the Mishkan, at the time the primary religious headquarters of the Jewish people, and prayed to Hashem that she merit conceiving and bearing a child. She prayed at great length to Hashem, and Eili was watching her mouth. Channah spoke in an undertone, with only her lips moving but her voice inaudible, and Eili thought that she was intoxicated. So, Eili told her, “For how long will you continue to be intoxicated? Remove your wine from yourself!” Channah responded, saying, “No, my lord, I am a woman who is greatly distressed. Wine and other intoxicating beverages I have not imbibed. I am pouring out my soul before Hashem (Shmuel I, 1:12-15).

Based on Eili’s reproof of Channah, the Gemara derives that the mitzvah of tochachah includes not only admonishing someone for sinning, but even for inappropriate behavior that is not sinful (Brachos 31b, as explained by Tosafos ad loc.) After all, Eili was admonishing her not for doing something specifically sinful, but for behaving in an inappropriate manner.

The cardinal rule of tochachah

The most basic rule of tochachah is that the mochiach, the person who is reproving, must truly care for the offender. Being sincerely concerned about the other person’s welfare is a condition which must be met, if the reproof is to be successful. Thus, tochachah is an extension of Ahavas Yisroel, loving our fellow Jew. The Rambam (Hilchos Dei’os 6:7) writes that the mochiach should explain that he is helping the offender earn a greater share in olam haba. To quote him: “One who sees his friend sinning or following a lifestyle that is not good has a mitzvah to influence him to return to the proper way and to inform him that he is harming himself… The one who rebukes must do so privately, with a pleasant manner and a soft voice.”

So, how do I influence someone if I do not love him? The answer is that I am required to teach myself to love him, both to observe the mitzvah of Ahavas Yisroel and in order to fulfill the mitzvah of tochachah.

That tochachah must be performed in a pleasant manner is again borne out in the following Talmudic passage: the Mishnah (Shabbos 34a) rules that shortly before Shabbos begins, a man is required to ask his family members whether all maasros and challah portions have been separated and whether the eruv has been set up. He then instructs them to kindle the lights in honor of Shabbos. The Gemara makes a point of noting that one should say all these things in a soft voice. These instructions are, in a way, very similar to admonishing one’s family members.

One size does not fit all

Prior to admonishing someone, the mochiach should analyze carefully what will be the most effective way to influence the offender. The tochachah should be tailor-made to the person receiving it and presented in a way that it is most likely to influence him or her to change. One should use stories, parables, and/or logical proofs, depending on what will speak most convincingly to the heart of the person one seeks to persuade (Sefer Chassidim #5).

Example:

Yitzchak is aware that he is required to influence his next-door neighbor, Benny, to be more observant. Yitzchak realizes that, to draw Benny closer to mitzvos, Yitzchak must sincerely care about him. Thus, Yitzchak’s first step is to truly care for Benny and to use every opportunity to develop a friendship. Once Benny feels that Yitzchak truly cares, he will be open to listening to what his friend has to say. At this point, Yitzchak can begin to explain the benefits Benny reaps by observing mitzvos carefully.

We can now understand the following, somewhat rhetorical, declaration of the Gemara: Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah said: I would be astounded to learn that there is anyone in our generation who knows how to admonish” (Arachin 16b).

Notwithstanding this observation, the halachic authorities rule that there is still a mitzvah of tochachah, and that one is required to strive to observe it (see Le’reiacha Kamocha pg. 286, quoting numerous authorities).

It is axiomatic that admonishing someone should not embarrass him (Arachin 16b; Toras Kohanim to Parshas Kedoshim). The recipient of the tochachah must be taught that it is in his best interest to improve, something that cannot usually be accomplished in an antagonistic interaction.

On the other hand…

Whoever has the ability to protest the misdeeds of members of his household and fails to do so is accountable for what they have done. The same is true for someone who could protest the misdeeds of the residents of his city and even the entire world and fails to do so. Therefore, the household of the Exilarch (Reish Galusa) is accountable for the misdeeds of the entire world (Shabbos 54b). Similarly, the entire Jewish people were punished in the days of Yehoshua for the crime of one individual, Achan (Yehoshua 22:20). Again, we find that the Kohen Gadol was responsible for the entire Jewish people. If one man sins, the entire nation will be punished, because of their failure to reproach him (Shaarei Teshuvah 3:72).

However, someone who admonished the evildoer appropriately has fulfilled the mitzvah of tochachah and will not be punished for the sinner’s evil deeds (Shaarei Teshuvah 3:72; Sefer Chasidim #5). To quote the Navi, Yechezkel: Because you warned the evildoer to repent from his way, even though he did not repent – he will die for his sin, but you have saved your own life (Yechezkel 33:9).

Tochachah that will be ignored

However, the halachah is that when it is clear that a sinner will ignore any reprimand, one should not attempt to admonish him, as it says in Mishlei (9, 8): Do not rebuke a scoffer, lest he come to hate you; rebuke a wise man, and he will love you. As the Gemara expresses this idea: Just as it is a mitzvah to say something that will be heeded, so it is a mitzvah to refrain from saying that which will be disregarded (Yevamos 65b). In these instances, censure will cause the evildoer to sin more, rather than to do teshuvah, and, therefore, it must be avoided.

Who qualifies as a scoffer?

This question is discussed in a different passage of Gemara (Shabbos 55a), where we find the following conversation:

Rabbi Zeira said to Rabbi Simon: “The master should chastise the members of the Reish Galusa’s household.”

Rabbi Simon responded: “They will not listen to me.”

To this, Rabbi Zeira retorted: “Even if they will not listen, admonish them.”

Rabbi Zeira then quoted an Aggadic passage, in which a conversation transpired between Midas Hadin, the attribute of justice, and Hashem. At one point in this “conversation,” Midas Hadin challenged Hashem to punish the righteous for not protesting the evildoings of the wicked. Hashem answered: “I know for certain that even had the righteous protested, the wicked would not have listened.” To this, Midas Hadin retorted: “You knew that the wicked would not have listened. But how did the righteous people know?” And since the righteous had no way of knowing that the evil would not listen, they should be punished for not having attempted to influence them.

We can therefore conclude that only when it is absolutely certain that the sinner will not listen is there no mitzvah either to rebuke or to protest. However, as long as the possibility exists that the sinner might listen, one is required to rebuke him.

Mutav sheyihyu shogagin

There are other instances when one should not rebuke someone who is sinning. This is when one is certain that the sinner will not change after being admonished and, also, he may not know that the activity is forbidden (Sefer Chasidim #413). This halachic status is called Mutav sheyihyu shogagin ve’al yihyu meizidin, “Better that they sin out of ignorance than that they become intentional sinners” (Beitzah 30a; Bava Basra 60b). For brevity’s sake I will refer to this status as “mutav.”

In this situation, the tochachah will probably accomplish only that the person will now be sinning intentionally, instead of out of a lack of knowledge. Since the result of the reproach is not constructive, it should be avoided.

The law of mutav, better that they sin unintentionally than intentionally, is true even when the prohibition is quite clear and could easily be discovered by the sinner. In other words, the sinner is considered shogeig, uninformed that what he is doing is forbidden, only because he does not want to know the truth. For example, even when all halachic authorities discuss the matter and prohibit the activity, the sinner is still considered one who acted out of ignorance rather than with intent. One should avoid telling him of his error when one assesses that knowledge of the sin will not affect his behavior.

This background allows us to understand a passage of Gemara that otherwise seems extremely strange:

A person should always live in the place where his rebbe does, for as long as Shimi ben Geira [Shlomoh Hamelech’s rebbe] was alive, Shlomoh did not marry the daughter of Pharoah. [Rashi notes that the verse mentions Shlomoh marrying Pharoah’s daughter immediately after it mentions Shimi’s death, see Melachim I, 2:46 – 3:1.] However, there is a beraysa that says that one should not live in the place of his rebbe. [Thus, we have two halachic statements that seem to say diametrically opposite ideas.] These two statements do not disagree. One is discussing someone who listens to the rebuke of his rebbe and therefore being proximate to his rebbe will prevent him from sinning. The Beraysa is discussing someone who does not listen to his rebbe (Brachos 8a).

As Rashi explains, someone who does not listen to his rebbe is better living distant from his rebbe, so that he is considered negligent when he does not hear his rebbe’s admonition. This is less severe than someone who ignores the admonitions. The latter person will become an intentional sinner when he ignores his rebbe’s admonition. The rule of mutav applies notwithstanding his having moved a distance from his rebbe so as not to be reproached for this misdeed!

Probably won’t listen

Should one reproach an ill-doer when you know that he probably will not listen? The halachah of mutav applies only when one is certain that the offending party will not listen. When one thinks that he will probably not listen, but it is not certain, one is required to admonish the offender (Tosafos, Bava Basra 60b s.v. Mutav).

We will continue our discussion about the mitzvah of tochachah next week.


[1] For a halachic explanation of the sale of Yosef, see the chapter on this topic in my book From Buffalo Burgers to Monetary Mysteries.