Rebuke Yom Kippur Afternoon Study, 5776 Congregation Beth Shalom, Pittsburgh, PA
(יז) לֹֽא־תִשְׂנָ֥א אֶת־אָחִ֖יךָ בִּלְבָבֶ֑ךָ הוֹכֵ֤חַ תּוֹכִ֙יחַ֙ אֶת־עֲמִיתֶ֔ךָ וְלֹא־תִשָּׂ֥א עָלָ֖יו חֵֽטְא׃
(17) Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart; thou shalt surely rebuke thy neighbour, and not bear sin because of him.
(ח) אַל־תּ֣וֹכַח לֵ֭ץ פֶּן־יִשְׂנָאֶ֑ךָּ הוֹכַ֥ח לְ֝חָכָ֗ם וְיֶאֱהָבֶֽךָּ׃
(8) Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee; reprove a wise man, and he will love thee.

תניא א"ר טרפון (תמיהני) אני אם יש בדור הזה שמקבל תוכחה אם אמר לו טול קיסם מבין שיניך אמר לו טול קורה מבין עיניך אמר רבי אלעזר בן עזריה תמיהני אם יש בדור הזה שיודע להוכיח

Rabbi Tarfon taught, "I wonder if anyone in this generation knows how to receive rebuke. If someone said to him, 'remove the toothpick from between your teeth,' he would say, 'remove the beam from between your eyes.' Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah said, "I wonder if there is anyone in this generation who knows how to rebuke."

(א) מצות תוכחה לישראל שאינו נוהג כשורה - להוכיח אחד מישראל שאינו מתנהג כשורה, בין בדברים שבין אדם לחברו או בין אדם למקום, שנאמר (ויקרא יט יז) הוכח תוכיח את עמיתך ולא תשא עליו חטא. ואמרו בספרא (קדושים ד ח) מנין אם הוכחתו ארבעה וחמשה פעמים ולא חזר, שאתה חיב לחזר ולהוכיח? תלמוד לומר הוכח תוכיח. ועוד אמרו זכרונם לברכה בגמרא (ב''מ לא א) הוכח תוכיח אפילו מאה פעמים. ואמרו שם בספרא יכול מוכיחו ופניו משתנות? תלמוד לומר ולא תשא עליו חטא. וזה מלמד שבתחלת התוכחה שראוי לאדם, להוכיח בסתר ובלשון רכה ודברי נחת, כדי שלא יתביש, ואין ספק שאם לא חזר בו בכך, שמכלימין החוטא ברבים ומפרסמין חטאו ומחרפין אותו עד שיחזר למוטב.

The mitzvah of tochecha (rebuke) of an Israelite that is not behaving properly - to rebuke one from Israel that is not behaving properly, either concerning things between man and man or between man and God, as it is written, "You shall surely rebuke your neighbor and do not bear sin because of him." And it says in Sifre (Kedoshim 4:8) From where do we learn that if you rebuked him four and five times and he did not repent, you must go back and rebuke (again)? For this reason it says hochach tochiach, "You shall surely rebuke." And also chaza"l said in the Gemara (Bava Metzia 31a) "You shall surely rebuke" even 100 times. And Sifrei also said, could it be that you rebuke him and his face changes (becomes pale or humiliated)? For this reason it says, "Do not bear sin because of him." This teaches that in the beginning of the rebuke that is proper for a person, to rebuke him in private and with a soft tongue and words of calm, in order that he will not be shamed, and no doubt if he does not repent after this, we castigate the sinner in public and publicize his sin and excoriate him until he returns to the good. (Translation mine)

(45) Since Pinchas held back many from sinning, he is described by the prophet as having the true Torah issuing forth from his mouth. "Truth" is an element that reinforces and strengthens religious belief and practice. It is not something merely personal, but is something that must be demonstrated to the community in order to be capable of convincing such a community to do penitence. Such a result is called אמת, truth. Truth is something of an everlasting nature. Concerning such truth, the prophet Jeremiah (5,1) proclaims in the name of the Lord: "Roam the streets of Jerusalem, search its squares; look about and take note; you will not find a man. There is none who acts justly, who seeks integrity- that I should pardon her." This is surely a very remarkable statement. How could the existence of even a single such “איש” be questioned, when at that time there lived in Israel numerous prophets and pious men in Israel! Does not the same prophet in chapter 24,1 describe that G'd showed him a vision of the חרש והמסגר, two Torah scholars of renown, (Sanhedrin 38) who were exiled together with king Yechonyah (Kings II 24,16-17)? The answer is simply that these Torah scholars had failed to act publicly to call upon the masses to mend their ways, and return to the ways of the Torah. Jeremiah laments that there is not a single person in the courtyards of Jerusalem who has the moral courage to proclaim his convictions publicly! Rabbi Amram in Sanhedrin 119 states explicitly that Jersusalem was destroyed because the Torah scholars ignored the commandment to admonish their fellow Jews. (Leviticus 19,17) He derives this from the verse in Lamentations 1,6: היו שריה כאילים, לא מצאו מרעה. "Her leaders were like stags that found no pasture." The prophet there drew a parallel between the spiritual leaders of Israel and the stag whose head is usually down on the ground near its tail. The leaders of the Jewish people, similarly, buried their heads in the sand in order "to see no evil, hear no evil-etc." When contrasted with this kind of behaviour, Pinchas stood out as a man of truth in whom the jealousy for his G'd was paramount. This explains why he was rewarded with everlasting life, i.e. this is why the prophet Elijah did not experi¬ence death on this earth.

  • What is the significance of the three mitzvot in this pasuk being bundled together, according to the sources?
  • What is the meaning of the verse from Proverbs?
  • What does Rabbi Tarfon feel is wrong with the way people in his day receive rebuke?
  • Elazar Ben Azaryah gives no example of why he wonders whether anyone knows how to rebuke? What is he concerned about?
  • How does the last sentence from Sefer haChinuch fit with your understanding of Jewish law on public rebuke? At what times do we - or should we - practice this way? At what times is this approach unacceptable? How does our community behave on this issue?
  • How does the discussion in Shelah resonate in our time? How do our leaders behave? How do we behave? And how should we regard the example of Pinchas? What else have the rabbis taught about his behavior?