The mitzvah of reprobation: parshas kedoshim

The Parsha of Kedoshim includes the famous statement:

הוכח תוכיח את עמיתך

You shall surely reprove your friend [who is doing the wrong thing]

The גמרא in :יבמות סה tells us:

אמר רבי אילעא משום ר’ אלעזר בר’ שמעון: כשם שמצוה על אדם לומר דבר הנשמע, כך מצוה על אדם שלא לומר דבר שאינו נשמע

In the same way that it is a Mitzvah to say something that will be listened to, it is also a Mitzvah not to say something that will not be listened to.

The word כשם—in the same way—seems obscure. Apart from the simplistic notion that they are both מצוות, what is the similarity between the two situations? What is the common thread between a person who does tell another off and one who refrains from doing so?

The purpose of the מצווה of תוכחה—admonishing—distances one’s friend from the possibility of sin. That is, the admonishment potentially maintains one’s friends status to remain as that of a צדיק, someone who has not sinned. Similarly, the גמרא in .ביצה ל tells us that

מוטב שיהיו שוגגין ואל יהו מזידין

It is better that [people] remain accidental sinners as opposed to sinners with intent

Why is it better? By refraining from admonishment, the accidental sinner does not lose their status quo of צדיק by virtue of what will remain an accidental sin. No intent or knowledge of sin implies that, in the eyes of God, the sinner remains a צדיק—there was never an intention to wilfully sin. If the accidental sinner will not listen to one’s admonishment, then by not informing them of the fact that their act is a sin, one maintains the status quo, and the person remains a צדיק.

This then is the connection between the two cases and the use of the word כשם—in the same way. In both instances: actively admonishing and refraining from telling someone off, one is directly or indirectly responsible for ensuring that the potential sinner remains a צדיק.

Notwithstanding this explanation, which depicts the simple meaning of the Pasuk—פשוטו של מקרא—Halacha tells us, as mentioned by the משנה ברורה in סימן תריב in the name of אחרונים that included in הוכח תוכיח את עמיתך is the notion of an expressed negative reaction when someone is intentionally sinning, even if we know they will not listen to us. The Halacha includes the need to express outrage. Accordingly, why would we not then extend this idea to the case of someone who is accidentally sinning? If the idea is to also express displeasure at the sight of a sinful act, why not express this when a sin is perpetrated accidentally?

The Rav explains that when there is a contradiction between the simple meaning of the Pasuk—פשוטו של מקרא—as expressed through the word כשם which implies that one must attempt to maintain the status of צדיק in a friend, and the מצווה to react when someone is sinning, then the הלכה is that in such a case we stand by the simple meaning of the Pasuk—פשוטו של מקרא—and refrain from reacting.

In contemporary society, even when we do feel compelled to react, and feel that this is dictated by Halacha, it is also important to know how to express this reaction. The often violent and disruptive manner chosen by Charedim, especially in Israel, and some who live in יהודה ושומרון  has no place in a civilised society, let alone Halacha.

שבת שלום

Author: pitputim

I've enjoyed being a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia, as well as band leader/singer for the Schnapps Band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel and later in life at Machon L'Hora'ah, Yeshivas Halichos Olam.

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