Parashas Acharei-Mos/Kedoshim

In parashas Kedoshim, the Torah commands (Vayikra 19:17): “Do not hate your brother in your heart; you must surely rebuke your fellow man, and do not bear sin on his account (לא תשא עליו חטא).” In discussing this command, the Maggid begins by noting that a person must not rely on his own judgment alone to decide how to act; he must also acquire guidance from others. In this vein, Hillel declares (Pirkei Avos 1:12): “If I am for myself [alone], what am I?” Along the same lines, Shlomo HaMelech tells us that “he who walks with wise men will grow wise” (Mishlei 13:30), and R. Yehoshua ben Perachya teaches (Avos 1:6), “Make for yourself a teacher and acquire for yourself a friend.” If the only ruler a person has over him is his own conscience, he is in danger, for by himself he may be unable to control his drives. Indeed, he might not even see that he is acting improperly; as the Gemara in Shabbos 119a says, people do not recognize their own faults. The Maggid then goes on to say that, beyond turning to others for good advice, a person must reflect on the misdeeds he sees others commit and learn a lesson from them about how not to act. This principle is the focus of the Maggid’s ensuing discussion.
In Berachos 43b, the Gemara expounds: “It is written (Koheles 3:11), ‘He made everything fitting in its time.’ This teaches that the Holy One Blessed Be He made each and every one’s habits seem fitting in his own eyes.” [In line with the Maggid’s commentary, I have rendered אומנתו as habits instead of the usual rendering as occupation.] The Gemara is saying that everyone has an inborn bias toward being satisfied with his own conduct. Note that the Gemara writes “each and every one” (אחד אחד) rather than “each and every man” (איש איש). By this choice of phrasing, the Gemara hints that a person’s inborn tendency to judge himself favorably operates only when he is alone, but when two people are each other’s company, often each one will judge his conduct differently, as each one sizes up the other’s conduct. Watching someone else can help a person gain an more accurate grasp of right and wrong; although people are biased toward finding favor with their own conduct, as we just said, no one has any inborn bias toward finding favor with someone else’s conduct.
We can connect this discussion with one of Shlomo HaMelech’s teachings (Mishlei 27:22): “If you grind a fool in a mortar along with softened grain and pound him with a pestle, you will not remove his foolishness from him.” On the surface, the phrase “along with softened grain” is puzzling, for the point of Shlomo’s statement seems clear without this phrase, and seemingly it should not matter whether the fool is ground along with softened grain or by himself. But when we analyze the statement closely, we will see the depth of its wisdom. The Maggid brings out the point with a parable.  Once a Torah scholar rebuked a group of people for their bad ways. After he left, one said to the other: “Did this scholar speak falsely, far be it? Is it right that you cook on Shabbos? Have you ever seen a Jew do such a thing?” And the other retorted: “Do you worry about mixing meat and milk, or eating nonkosher meat?” When the scholar heard what happened, he said with amusement: “These guys are each searching only in someone else’s bag. None of them wants to search his own bag. While one of them is examining another, the other one examines him.”
The lesson is as follows. Delivering rebuke is a great mitzvah: The Torah tells us that a Jew must surely rebuke his fellow man. But there is a condition attached to this charge. The Gemara teaches (Arachin 17a): “We might think that one should rebuke his fellow man until he blushes. Therefore it is written, ‘do not bear sin on his account.’” Torah scholars have an established strategy for delivering rebuke: They address their rebuke to the entire community, and the offenders in the audience understand that the rebuke is directed toward them. In this way, the goal of the rebuke is achieved without shaming anyone. But this approach works only if the offenders indeed recognize that the rebuke is directed toward them. But an offender may say to himself: “I wonder who the speaker has in mind. Maybe it is so-and-so.” The situation is then exactly like grinding a fool along with softened grain: The fool says to himself, “He isn’t trying to grind me – he just wants to grind the grain.” If the offender takes this attitude, the rebuker will not remove the fool’s foolishness. The offender is blinded by his bias toward finding favor with his own conduct. In such a case, the rebuker has no choice but to “grind” the fool by himself, and then the fool will understand that he is the one being ground.  
Let us now return to our main discussion about the Torah’s command regarding rebuke. You can look at another person’s actions and see thereby how you should judge yourself. You can then correct your behavior accordingly. But this process will take place only if you regard the other person as your “fellow” – that is, as your friend whom you love as you love yourself [which the Torah tells us to do in the very next verse]. It is only then that the other person will serve as a mirror through which you can examine yourself. It is different if you do not like the other person, and all the more so if you hate him. You will then feel no remorse when you see the other person’s misconduct. You will say to yourself that only a scoundrel like him engages in such foolish behavior. The Torah therefore tells us “do not hate your brother in your heart” and then continues by saying “you must surely rebuke your fellow.” If you do not hate your brother, you will be able to rebuke him and yourself along with him. The Torah then continues further by saying לא תשא עליו חטא, which we can interpret as telling us not to place the blame for sin solely upon the specific person whom we saw sinning. Rather we should draw from him a lesson applying to everyone, ourselves included.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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