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Shabbat Parashat Behar| 5768

Guidelines on when the Mitzva of Tochacha Applies

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Question: Please give some guidelines on when the mitzva of tochacha (giving rebuke) applies? If one is not sure if the recipient will respond positively or negatively, should he say something?
It is not possible in this context to give more than “some guidelines” in this complex matter. I also will modify the question slightly. Classic tochacha is done to change the mind of one who sinned knowingly. Although the mitzva exists nowadays, most authorities assume that it can be accomplished satisfactorily only by those who people who are uniquely qualified or those with special relationships (e.g., spouses, parent-child, teacher-student) (see Amud Hay’mini, siman 10). So let us concentrate on the related mitzva of afrushei mei’issura (keeping a counterpart from sinning) by informing someone that he is sinning unintentionally. The S’dei Chemed (vol. VII, pg. 318) demonstrates that afrushei mei’issura is actually derived from the pasuk of tochacha.

The first guideline is that when one is sinning unknowingly but will sin knowingly if he is told, he should not be informed (mutav sheyihiyu shog’gin v’al yihyu m’zidin- see Beitza 30a). This however, applies only when one is sure that the party will not change his ways (Tosafot, Shabbat 55a; Mishna Berura 608:3). It does not appear that one needs 100% surety, and it is very difficult to apply this distinction. One of the cases where pointing out a mistake is less likely to be successful is when many people act improperly in a certain matter (see Beitza 30a; the Rama (Orach Chayim 608:2) makes this distinction in our general context.)

The possibility of a negative backlash is also a factor. In a landmark teshuva (Minchat Shlomo 35), Rav S.Z. Orbach argues that one may even create a situation whereby his counterpart will sin (ostensibly violating lifnei iver, placing a spiritual stumbling block), if failure to do so would cause that person to deteriorate further, such as in hatred of Torah and its adherents. Certainly then, one can refrain from butting in when information is likely to cause significantly negative results in addition to probably not helping. We use some variation of this concept often in our interactions with the non-observant and those with inconsistent observance. Honestly, it is not always clear when our silence is due to prudence and when we tend to avoid uncomfortable conversations.

It is important to consider that it is not always a choice of whether someone’s mistake should be corrected but when, how, and by whom it should be done. Consider the following application (found in Rashi to Devarim 1:3). Yaakov, Moshe, Yehoshua, and Shmuel all waited until close to their deaths to strongly rebuke their constituencies out of fear that earlier rebuke might have caused the recipients to have change their allegiances in favor of a path of evil. Similarly, a new rabbi may see many things that he knows his community needs to change. Instead of raising all issues at once and failing, he waits for a (hopefully) opportune time to deal with each (or some) of them.

An interesting question is whether one should say something when he sees an unaware person doing something that is forbidden according to a consensus of opinions, but where there is not unanimity. Again, we will borrow a concept from Rav Orbach’s approach to lifnei iver. Most poskim posit that one who is stringent on a certain question may enable one who is legitimately lenient on the matter to partake in the practice (see Ktav Sofer, YD 77). The giver does not have to apply his own standards regarding a possible violation performed by someone else. Rav Orbach (Minchat Shlomo 44) goes further, saying that even if Reuven, who is doing the questionable thing, is unaware of the majority who forbid the matter and the legitimate minority, Shimon may enable Reuven to act so if he knows that if Reuven were aware of the opinions, he would act leniently.

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This edition of Hemdat Yamim is dedicated in loving memory of

R ' Meir ben Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld


 Hemdat Yamim is endowed by Les & Ethel Sutker of Chicago, Illinois in loving memory of

Max and Mary Sutker

 and Louis and Lillian Klein, z”l.

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