Shalom Aleikhem!

I

I once cited a thought from Rav Dovid Lifshitz about the nature of shalom. Shalom goes beyond peace in the sense of a cessation of violence. It’s the same root as sheleimus — wholeness. Beyond “world peace”, a vision of universal shalom means one in which all the nations “will come together in a single union to do Your will with a leivav shaleim, a whole heart.” Sheleimus within each heart being expressed as sheleimus within humanity as a whole.

I recently had an opportunity to listen to a shmuess from Rav Dovid given the week of selikhos right before 5760. He opens the talk with another point related to shalom and sheleimus.

For Ashkenazim the last berakhah of “Shemoneh Esrei” at minchah and ma’ariv (which Chassidim only say at ma’arim) begins with a request that “שלום רב על ישראל עמך תשים לעולם– place great shalom on Israel Your nation for eternity”. Beyond simply asking for shalom, we ask for shalom rav.

What is shalom rav?

שָׁלוֹם רָב, לְאֹהֲבֵי תוֹרָתֶךָ;    וְאֵין-לָמוֹ מִכְשׁוֹל.

Shalom rav is granted those who love Your Torah, and they have no obtacles.

- Tehillim119:165

Shalom rav is the unity and wholeness of self that eliminates all obstacles from the path of the lover of Torah.

The rule with respect to tzara’as is “אין אדם רואה נגעי עצמו – a person [a kohein, since no one else is empowered to determine tzara'as] does not inspect his own afflictions”. This has become a rabbinical aphorism, “people don’t see their own faults”, which is probably the motivation of the law of tzara’as.

Rav Dovid elaborates on the impact of this truism. Because I can not make a realistic assessment of my own shortcomings, I can not succeed without participating in a healthy community. Thus, there can be no pursuit of sheleimus without shalom and no shalom without sheleimus! One is simply another manifestation of the other.

This is what is meant when Jews greet each other “Shalom aleikhem!” “Aleikhem shalom!” We pledge to work together for the sheleimus of us all as individuals, and as a whole.

II

Which brings me around back to the mitzvah of tokhachah, usually translated as “rebuke”. I started looking at it in a discussion of the prohibition “do not hate your brother in your heart”. That entry opened:

Do not hate your brother in your heart;לֹֽא־תִשְׂנָ֥א אֶת־אָחִ֖יךָ בִּלְבָבֶ֑ךָ;
you should surely rebuke your neighbor,הוֹכֵ֤חַ תּוֹכִ֨יחַ֙ אֶת־עֲמִיתֶ֔ךָ
and do not carry a sin because of him.וְלֹֽא־תִשָּׂ֥א עָלָ֖יו חֵֽטְא׃

- Vayiqra 19:17

There are a number of questions about this verse that need to be addressed before we can understand it.

First, is this verse describing one mitzvah, or two? Is it a commandment to rebuke others rather than hating them in one’s heart? Or are they two distinct mitzvos – hatred and rebuke being less related. On the one hand, they do appear in the same verse. On the other, there is no conjunctive between them telling us a kind of relationship Hashem would give them.

Most of the rishonim discussed then concluded that hating someone in your heart includes acting on it; in other words, “[even if only] in your heart” and of course if you then act on it. And thus giving tokhachah is in contrast to non-productive ways of handling hatred.

The Kesef Mishnah understands the Rambam to say that the first part of the verse is only when it is in one’s heart. The prohibition against venting hatred is “lo siqom velo sitor — do not take revenge and do not carry a grudge”. Therefore there is no implied contrast between tokhachah and other actions. As I wrote then:

A side point about rebuke.  The nature of the obligation to give constructive criticism differs depending on whether the verse is understood as linked, or as distinct mitzvos.

According to Rashi et al, the focus of tokhachah is to clear the air and avoid hatred. Thus, the primary mitzvah is on things the other did to wrong you in particular. According to the Kesef Mishnah’s understanding of the Rambam, the obligation is broader — preventing future sin. Someone who could rebuke and doesn’t will “carry the sin for him” who wasn’t corrected. This can include rebuke for the sake of the wrongdoer learning otherwise, for making sure the sin doesn’t become an accepted part of the culture in general, or even just to reinforce one’s own’s resistance and avoiding emulating him. That too is a discussion among the rishonim, but too far off point.

The Rambam describes tokhachah as follows (tr. Emanuel O’Levy):

ו כשיחטא איש לאיש–לא ישטמנו וישתוק, כמו שנאמר ברשעים “ולא דיבר אבשלום עם אמנון, למרע ועד טוב: כי שנא אבשלום, את אמנון” (שמואל ב יג,כב); אלא מצוה עליו להודיעו ולומר לו, למה עשית לי כך וכך ולמה חטאת לי בדבר פלוני: שנאמר “הוכח תוכיח את עמיתך, ולא תישא עליו חטא” (ויקרא יט,יז). ואם חזר וביקש ממנו למחול לו, צריך שימחול; ולא יהא המוחל אכזרי, שנאמר “ויתפלל אברהם, אל האלוהים” (בראשית כ,יז).

6: If one is sinned against by someone else, then one should not hate him secretly, for regarding wicked people it says, “And Absalom spoke neither good nor bad to his brother Amnon, for Absalom hated Amnon”. It is a commandment to make one’s hatred known to the person who wronged one and to ask him why he did what he did and why he wronged one in the way that he did, for it is written, “You shall definitely rebuke your fellow”. If he request forgiveness, one has to forgive him. One who forgives should not be too harsh, for it is written, “So Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, his wife and his maidservants, and they bore children”.

This is tokhachah as we have been looking at it until now — a conversation that clears the air, that
1- explains the other person’s side of the story, or
2- explains to him why it was hurtful
and thereby enables rapprochement.

לא חרבה ירושלים, אלא בשביל שלא הוכיח זה את זה.

-שבת קיט, ע”ב

Jerusalem was only destroyed because they didn’t give tokhachah to each other.

And yet, as is often repeated, we know (Yoma 9b) that the destruction was because of sin’as chinam (baseless or pointless hatred)! One causes the other. Because they never aired their greivances, anger was never resolved and turned into destructive hatred.

In the next halakhah, the Rambam gives a second kind of tokhachah:

ז הרואה את חברו שחטא, או שהוא הולך בדרך לא טובה–מצוה להחזירו למוטב, ולהודיעו שהוא חוטא על עצמו במעשיו הרעים: שנאמר “הוכח תוכיח את עמיתך” (ויקרא יט,יז).

7. Upon seeing someone else committing a sin or following a way which is not good, it is a commandment to return him to doing good and to make it known to him that he is sinning against himself, for it is written, “You shall definitely rebuke your fellow”.

Here it’s not the wronged party trying to clear the air, but someone speaking out of concern for the others well-being. That unity of “Shalom Aleikhem“.

Then the Rambam continues by giving some of the methodology “בין בדברים שבינו לבינו, בין בדברים שבינו לבין המקום — whether in matters between him and him or in matters between him and G-d” of both kinds of tokhachah, the rules that allow someone to accept your criticism constructively.

המוכיח את חברו–בין בדברים שבינו לבינו, בין בדברים שבינו לבין המקום–צריך להוכיחו בינו לבין עצמו, וידבר לו בנחת ובלשון רכה, ויודיעו שאינו אומר לו אלא לטובתו, ולהביאו לחיי העולם הבא. אם קיבל ממנו, מוטב; ואם לאו, יוכיח פעם שנייה ושלישית. וכן תמיד חייב להוכיח, עד שיכהו החוטא ויאמר לו איני שומע; וכל שאפשר בידו למחות ואינו ממחה, הוא נתפס בעוון אלו כולם שאפשר לו למחות בהן.

When rebuking someone, whether in matters between him and others or between him and God, one should do so in private, speak to him in repose and soft tones, and make sure that he understands that one is speaking to him for his own good, and [thereby] to bring him to life in the World To Come. If one’s words are accepted then it is good, but if not then one should rebuke him a second and third time [or as many times as necessary]. Similarly, one is obligated to rebuke a sinner until he hits one and tells one that he isn’t listening. Anyone who has the opportunity to protest but doesn’t is transgressing these sins, for he could have protested against them.

In the rest of halakhah 7 Rambam lists the following required of tokhachah:

  • speaking to him when you’re alone
  • in pleasant tone and calm language
  • being clear that you’re speaking for their best interest, and to bring them to the world to come
  • to bring it to him repeatedly if necessary until the other party grows angry (the measure is angry enough to hit him)

The question of whether you have to actually continue until hit, or continue until he curses you, is a dispute between Rav and Shemuel (respectively; Eirkhin 16b). The Rama cites both opinions (O”Ch 608:2). The Biur Halakhah cites the Chinukhthat even according to Rav, you may stop when he is ready to hit you, before being hit. The Mishnah Berurah (Shaar haTziyon, ad loc s”q 13) rules that one can rely on this opinion.

In halakhah 8 the Rambam addresses the need to navigate the obligation of tokhachah and the prohibition against embarrassing others (malbin penei chaveiro, literally: whitening his friend’s face).

So far, a clear and consistent picture emerges. However, the Rambam closes closes this discussion of embarrassment by writing:

במה דברים אמורים, בדברים שבין אדם לחברו; אבל בדברי שמיים–אם לא חזר בו בסתר–מכלימין אותו ברבים ומפרסמין חטאו ומחרפין אותו בפניו ומבזין ומקללין, עד שיחזור למוטב: כמו שעשו כל הנביאים לישראל.

This is talking about matters concerning Man and his Fellow, but concerning matters between Man and God, if he did not repent [when one rebuked him] in private, one should rebuke him in public, publicise his sins, and aggravate him to his face. We should pour scorn on him and curse him until he returns to the ways of good. The Prophets of Israel used to do this.

Why? Does it fit either of the Rambam’s categories of tokhachah, repproachment or helping the person correct themselves to continue in this loud and manner that isn’t likely to win him over?

III

On Beitzah 30a, Rava bar R’ Chanin asks why it is that the masses clap on Shabbos and no one speaks up about it; the mishnah prohibited it lest someone tune and play an instrument. Abayei compares it to the problem of why no one lectures the person who sits at the opening of an eiruv (where the possibility of  something rolling away and the person picking it up when outside the eiruv is too likely). In both cases, the reason is that we do not expect the people to listen, and therefore “mutav sheyihyu shogegin, ve’al yihyu meizidin — better they be doing it in ignorance than they do it intentionally.” (There were Litvisher Rabbanim who gave a similar explanation as to why few married women in pre-war Lithuania covered their hair. It wasn’t that it is permissable, but the rabbis had to choose battles they could win.)

The gemara adds that this idea applies to deOraisos as well. The example given is starting Yom Kippur early, which is a Torah law derived by derashah. And yet, people in those days ate until the last moment before sundown. (Today we are used to “licht bentching” being 18 minutes before sunset, which thereby captures this obligation.)

Looking at the Rashba, the Rosh and the Seifer haIttur, there is a limitation in the gemara. When it says the notion of “mutav sheyihyu…” applies to deOraisa law, the gemara only means those laws not explicitly spelled out in the Torah even though they were given with it. Such as in the case of adding to Yom Kippur, where the source is a derashah. This is also the way the halakhah is decided in the Rama (O”Ch 608:2).

Rashi explains the distinction. Laws explicitly written in the Torah are agreed upon by both us and the Sadducees. These mitzvos that are not in contention are defended differently than other mitzvos.

A possible outcome of this Rashi is that the applicability of “mutav sheyihyu…” may change with time. In the days of the mishnah or the rishonim, the masses accepted the notion of mitvah, and the sectarians (Tzeduqim or Qaraim) questioned rabbinic authority. Since Reform became large, one might argue that all all of halakhah is in the same category as the mitzvos that weren’t explicitly written in the Torah.

The issue here is a third kind of tokhachah. We spoke about avoiding a rift with someone you felt wronged you, and about helping someone acheive sheleimus. Here, the concern is for the masses. This is why the attitude of general society toward the halakhah in question matters. If a mitzvah is commonly accepted and nothing is done when people start violating it, that common standard will erode. Another role of tokhachah is to hold on to that standard.

And it could very well be that kind of tokhachah that the Rambam is discussing in halakhah 8. The scufflaw needs to be ostracized if that’s the only way to prevent his actions from creating a new norm.

IV

אמר רבי טרפון: תמה אני אם יש בדור הזה מי שיכול להוכיח [לקבל תוכחה], אם אמר לו: טול קיסם מבין שינך!’ אמר לו: ‘טול קורה מבין עיניך!’ אמר רבי אלעזר בן עזריה : תמה אני אם יש בדור הזה מי שמקבל תוכחה. אמר רבי עקיבא: תמהני אם יש בדור הזה שיודע להוכיח.

-ערכין טז, ע”ב

Rabbi Tarfon said: I wonder if in this generation there is anyone who can give rebuke . (The Shitah Mequbetzes records a second variant, “… who can receive rebuke.) If you tell him, “Take the splinter from between your teeth!” He can reply “Take the beam from between your eyes!”

Rabbi Tarfon does not appear to be speaking of rapproachment, but rather tokhachah in order to correct an error. Nor is he speaking of the case where tokhachah is to uphold a standard. Because even if the speaker himself is the only one capable of hearing what he has to say, the standard is upheld. However, R’ Tarfon’s words do severely limit the role of rebuking other individuals.

We all live in “glass houses”; we can’t rebuke others constructively, instead we are effectively invited them to criticize those of our flaws which are bigger. And so, the gemara advises:

קשוט עצמך ואחר כך קשוט אחרים.

-בבא מציעא קז, ע”א

Polish yourself, and after that polish others.

כשם שמצווה לומר דבר הנשמע, כך מצווה שלא לומר דבר שאינו נשמע.

-יבמות סה, ע”ב

Just as there is a mitzvah to say that which will be heard, so too there is a mitzah not to say that which won’t be heard.

Given Rabbi Tarfon’s words, “mutav sheyihyu” is the norm. And the Chazon Ish (Yoseh Dei’ah end of siman 2) takes this one step further. Because there is little room today for rebuke, there is no situation in which it is permissible to hate another.

However, in contrast to Rabbi Tarfon’s general rule, we have this counterexample.

אמר רב יוחנן בן נורי: מעיד אני עלי שמים וארץ שהרבה פעמים נלקה עקיבא על ידי שהייתי קובל עליו לפני רבן גמליאל, וכל שכן שהוספתי בו אהבה, לקיים מה שנאמר (משלי ט, ח’): אל תוכח לץ פן ישנאך, הוכח לחכם ויאהבך’.

-ערכין טז, ע”ב

Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri said: Heaven and earth can testify about me that many times [the future Rabbi] Aqiva was punished because of me. Because I would report on him to Rabban Gamliel. And each time he loved me all the more, as it says [in Mishlei], “Do not rebuke the scoffer lest he hate you; rebuke the wise and he will love you.

A key difference is the setting. Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri had a preexisting relationship as peers in Rabban Gamliel’s shiur.

When we say to someone “How are you?” we rarely want an answer. We could define the word friend as someone who, when they ask you how you are, they really want to know. (By that definition, to how many people are we good friends?)

Among the students of the Mussar school of Novhardok, when one asked the other “How are you?” they were told how their friend was doing in the terms that mattered the most to them, their middos. They would discuss how each of the middos they were working on at the time are faring, their recent successes and setbacks. This was their understanding of one of the key elements of Rav Yisrael Salanter’s Mussar program, the mutual support provided by the mussar friendship.

שָׁלוֹם רָב, לְאֹהֲבֵי תוֹרָתֶךָ;    וְאֵין-לָמוֹ מִכְשׁוֹל.

Shalom rav is granted those who love Your Torah, and they have no obtacles.

- Tehillim119:165

Rabbi Aqiva, an oheiv Torah, lived in that world of shalom rav. A key lesson for us to take from him is that when he and Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri said “Shalom aleikhem!” they were bonding together in a mutual quest for sheleimus that comes from shalom and shalom that emerges from the unity of sheleimim. And so, rebuke both came from and was taken as an expression of that bond.

V

I wrote this blog entry because my mother‘שתי asked, back when I wrote the one titled Hatred, just how one is supposed to give tochakhah. The answer seems to be that the word really means three different things:

  1. Avoiding letting anger grow into hate by talking it out.
  2. Helping someone else by giving them constructive criticism. This is limited to those with whom you already have a relationship with that is built upon a real belief in “shalom aleikhem” and to pick those battles worth fighting.
  3. Standing up for what’s right when someone is eroding excepted values. And here too, the values must be sufficiently accepted that you will do more good than harm. Mitzvos that are so self evident, even the heterodoxical movements still embrace them.

How one handles each is very different.

I would like to close with two examples that more directly address my mother’s question.

The following story was sent on the “RavFrand” email list around a decade back. It was transcribed from a lecture by Rabbi Yissachar Frand at a forum trying to prevent the opening of the Baltimore JCC building on Shabbos. I believe the speaker in the story who went to Maimi is Rabbi Berel Wein.

There is a famous story about the Chofetz Chaim. Actually, it is a story about a Rabbi who came to Maimi Beach, Florida, on the Chofetz Chaim’s Yahrtzeit, to say divrei [words of] Torah from, and stories about, the Chofetz Chaim. The Rabbi was hesitant whether to offer one of the stories, since he did not really know how it ended. Nevertheless, he decided to tell the story.

This story was about a young man who was a student in the Chofetz Chaim’s Yeshiva [Rabbinic School] in Radin. The young man was caught smoking on Shabbos. The other students reported the incident to the staff of the Yeshiva, and they decided to expel the student.

When the Chofetz Chaim learned what had happened, he asked to see the student before he was expelled. The student came in to the Chofetz Chaim, only to emerge after a short while – not only to remain in the yeshiva, but to remain a shomer shabbos, a Sabbath observant Jew, for the rest of his life.

The Rabbi stopped the story at that point, since that was all he knew. The Rabbi lamented, if only he knew what the Chofetz Chaim told the student about Shabbos. If only he knew, then we would know how the Chofetz Chaim convinced that boy to remain a Shomer Shabbos, and we could do the same.

The Rabbi finished his talk, and the lecture hall emptied out, leaving no one – except for one old man who remained in his seat. He was crying – literally shaking from crying. The Rabbi went over to the man and asked what was bothering him. The man asked the Rabbi, “How do you know that story?” The Rabbi replied that he had heard it from others, that was all. The old man continued, “I have something to tell you. I was that bachor [student]. This is a story that goes back many many years, and I was that bachor.”

So the Rabbi asked his burning question: “What did the Chofetz Chaim tell you, that made you into a Shomer Shabbos?” The old man responded, remembering the incident as if it had happened the day before.

He walked into the Chafetz Chaim’s house, which was sparsely furnished; the great scholar lived in what many people would consider abject poverty. He remembered that the Chafetz Chaim was very short, barely coming up to his shoulders, and was a very old man at that time. “The Chafetz Chaim took my hand in his hand, and he closed his eyes; when he opened his eyes again, the Chafetz Chaim was crying.” The man said that he remembered, until that very day, the hot tears falling on his hand. The Chafetz Chaim said three words, “Shabbos, Heiligah Shabbos [Shabbos, holy Shabbos].” That was all he said. But from then on, the student remained a shomer shabbos.

I must confess I gave Rav Dovid Lifshitzזצ”ל a number of opportunities to give me a little tokhachah. Rav Dovid would do so after class. He would sit you down, look in your eyes, let his hand lovingly rest on your arm. Generally he spoke in a modern Hebrew, with enough English thrown in to make sure you didn’t get lost in trying to translate. His pain at watching a beloved student err was written in his eyes and tempered his voice.And rebbe would tell you of your gifts, whatever Hashem happened to bless you personally with. And of your potential. And he would explain how someone of that stature could do so much better.

I think, therefore, that my mother’s question must be rephrased. It’s not about how to give tokhachah, but how to become a mochiakh, to be able to say “shalom aleikhem” and mean it.

3 thoughts on “Shalom Aleikhem!

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