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Wednesday
Apr292015

THE AREIVUS TRIFECTA

REBUKE!

A major principle of Judaism is the degree to which we are responsible for one another. This principle is expressed by the Torah in several different ways. One of them is found in this week’s parsha, K’doshim:

“You should not hate your brother in your heart. You should continually rebuke [literally: ‘Rebuke, you shall rebuke’] your fellow, and do not bear a sin because of him.”

This verse establishes the Torah’s requirement that we offer words of reproof to our fellow Jews when they have wronged us or otherwise sinned.

However, taking someone to task is not so easy an undertaking. How can one fail to exacerbate the friction between two people by pointing out the other’s wrongdoing? Won’t that backfire, causing the one rebuked to take umbrage and return the fire?

THE LIMITS

To allay this concern, our Sages added some limits to this obligation:

First, the Talmud states that “just as there is a Mitzvah to tell someone something that he or she will heed, so is it a Mitzvah not to tell someone something he or she will not accept.”

A story is told of a rabbi who visited the town’s miser. When the honored host asked the rabbi why he had come, the rabbi responded, “I came to do a Mitzvah.”

“Which Mitzvah,” the miser asked, fearing he would be solicited for a donation to some charitable cause.

“The Mitzvah is for me to come to you and not divulge what I really want because our Sages say that it is a Mitzvah not to tell someone something you know that he won’t do, and I know you won’t do it” replied the rabbi.

Of course, this piqued the curiosity of the miser and he pressured the rabbi to tell him the purpose of his visit. Only when he promised to do what the rabbi would ask of him did the rabbi “relent” and tell him about the charitable cause to which he was now “forced” to contribute…

DON’T EMBARRASS!

Another qualification of this requirement is not to embarrass the person whom you are rebuking. According to Rashi, this is the meaning of the concluding words of the verse: “and do not bear a sin because of him.” What sin is the Torah referring to?

Rashi explains: “Do not embarrass him in public.” While you have the right and obligation to rebuke your fellow, do not embarrass or shame him, for if you do you will be carrying a sin because of him.

The rationale for this is twofold:

First, your rebuke will not be effective. Rather than getting the person to heed your reprimand, he or she will be deeply offended and reject out of hand any suggestion to change. It is even likely to anger her or him, which can result in the embarrassed person taking revenge.

Second, it is inherently wrong to embarrass another, and we do not have the right to transgress this principle in order to rebuke another. [According to Rambam, however, there are extreme cases where embarrassment and other strong measures are permitted.]

Another proviso, cited in Tanya (Chapter 32), is that the person whom you rebuke must be someone who shares the same values and commitment to Torah as yourself but who then falters.

WORDS FROM THE HEART

Another Talmudic saying indicates an additional condition for our rebuke to be in order: “Words that come from the heart will enter the heart.” For one’s rebuke to be successful in changing the other, one must rebuke with sincerity. It does not suffice to do it only because the Torah commands us to do so.

Indeed, the first person given the express responsibility to rebuke sinners was Noah. Yet, in the 120 years it took him to build the Ark he did not succeed in changing anyone. If he had caused even one person to do T’shuva (repent and return) that individual would have joined Noah and his family on the Ark.

How could it be that a man whom the Torah describes as righteous failed so miserably in carrying out G-d’s command to him?

The Rebbe answers that Noah did exactly everything he was commanded by G-d to do, and that is precisely how he carried out his mission to rebuke the world. However, he did not empathize with the people whom he rebuked, and that is why his words could not penetrate their hardened and resistant hearts.

REBUKE YOURSELF

Another component of the proper rebuking of another is the need to rebuke oneself first. The Talmud states: “One should take care of oneself before taking care of others.” This doesn’t mean that one should not try to prevent someone else from committing a crime before performing self-rebuke, for if that were the case, no one would be allowed to rebuke anyone until he himself is sinless. Rather, it is intended to drive home the reality that it is exceedingly difficult to influence and inspire others if we do not take our own medicine.

Perhaps one can read the above conditions into the very wording of the command to rebuke by following a literal rendition:

“Rebuke, you shall rebuke your fellow and do not bear a sin because of him.”

In the original Hebrew, the word es appears before the words “your fellow.” This word is generally left untranslated but sometimes it is translated as “with.”

Let us now reread and reinterpret this verse: “When can you rebuke, when you rebuke the one who is with your fellow, i.e., yourself.” Only when you take your own medicine can you expect to change another’s behavior.

Let us perform this exercise once more: “When can you rebuke, when the person you rebuke is one with you.” It is only when you empathize with the other, feel a kinship and unity with him or her, that you can succeed in touching the other person’s heart, which will then lead him or her to return.

THE THREE
MEANINGS OF AREIVIM

This sentiment is alluded to in another Talmudic maxim on this topic:

“All of Israel are responsible for one another.” The Hebrew word for responsible is areivim. The Rebbe would often quote an interpretation that translates areivim two other ways. It can also mean “sweet.” Having responsibility for one another does not turn us into policemen who can just shout orders at strangers. No, our responsibility for one another derives from the love we feel; we are “sweet” to each other. Even when we rebuke, it is done with love and sweetness.

The third translation of areivim takes this thought a step further. Areivim can also mean “intermingled.” All of Israel are intermingled and interconnected. Despite appearances to the contrary, we are not a nation of disparate entities that have come together for certain events and objectives. We are essentially one nation because we are connected to one G-d. Our underlying state is one of sweetness and unity with every other Jew.

Thus, the Baal Shem Tov stated that we must love every Jew, even those we have never met. While love is usually predicated on knowing the object of your love, one can – and deep down does – love every Jew because of our connectedness.

Words of rebuke must come from the heart. If they come from the brain they will fail, as no two Jews think alike. The mother of a recently martyred Jew exclaimed in response to the incredible outpouring of solidarity with her family: “Jews are not of one mind but they are of one heart!”

LAG B’OMER

The reading of this parsha always coincides with the Holiday of Lag B’Omer, which we observe for two reasons. The first is that thousands of the students of Rabbi Akiva perished in a terrible plague between the Festivals of Pesach and Shavuos. It was on Lag B’Omer that they finally stopped dying. The second reason is that on this day, many years later, the great Sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai left the world in a state of spiritual ecstasy and with his last breath declared this day as his holiday.

What is the connection between these two reasons?

The reason Rabbi Akiva’s disciples perished, the Talmud states, is they did not treat each other with respect. They rebuked one another but not in a sweet and loving manner. Since they were not like minded, it poisoned the manner in which they tried to convince others of the correctness of their position. Because they lacked one-heartedness, their rebukes triggered a catastrophe.

It may be suggested that the harshness of their punishment derived from the fact that they failed to interpret the word es as “with,” and rebuked their fellows without empathy. For the students of another teacher that would not have been such an egregious error. But it was Rabbi Akiva himself who championed the interpretation of es as “with.” For Rabbi Akiva’s own students to miss that point was a far more serious transgression than it would have been for anyone else.

RABBI SHIMON BAR YOCHAI AND MOSHIACH

How does one rectify this situation?

The answer lies in the teachings of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai whose legacy we celebrate on Lag B’Omer. He was a pioneer in revealing the inner dimension of Torah. And it is these teachings, the Zohar states, which will lead us to the final Redemption. It is in this dimension of the Torah, especially as explained in Chassidic literature, that we are exposed to our common spiritual anatomy in which all of our souls share a single root.

By studying these teachings we learn to unearth our personalities by removing the surface perspectives which lead to our divisions and discover our true inner unity.

This lesson is particularly relevant now as we stand poised to enter the Messianic Age, when this unity will be external as well as internal. It is important for us to focus on that unity to pave the way for the future. Whereas in the past promoting Jewish love and unity was primarily a means to undo the cause of our exile, in today’s world it is the final step of preparation for the blessed time when we will experience our total unity with the One.

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