Monday, August 11, 2008

Devarim - tochecha

I gave a shiur this past Shabbos on the concept of tochecha - rebuke, reproach, admonishment - whatever you want to call it. The source sheets are here:

Devarim shiur

Isn't it odd that on Tisha B'Av one of the signs of mourning is that we are not allowed to greet each other. Unfortunately some of my neighbours are always in mourning, because it is very rare to get a spontaneous greeting around these parts. I'm sure other parts of the country (or the world) are better - but what's with saying hello?

Anyway, in addition to the sources (which are kind of neat because there is a story about Jesus - everyone loves Jesus stories) I also quoted the laws of tochecha, which are mainly to be found in Orech Chaim 608 and the Mishna Brura there.

One of the most important things is that tochecha can only be given out of love. If you don't love someone, don't bother telling them if they are doing something wrong - it won't count as a mitzvah for you, and they'll probably just end up hating you for it, which will give them another sin.

Love people. A lot. Care about them. Once you care about them you can also care about their spiritual wellbeing.

It is human nature to not enjoy being told off for doing something wrong. Learn to accept tochecha, even if it is given by the wrong person in the wrong way for the wrong reason.

Don't give tochecha that won't be listened to. It will only make things worse. Do give tochecha if it will be listened to (and in a way that will be heard) - it is one of the 248 positive mitzvot!

The Pele Yoetz (on his entry about tochecha) writes that people make the mistake of thinking that only the Rabbis have to give tochecha. He explains that it is even more important for the average person like you and I to give tochecha. There are two reasons for this. We know better what our friends are up to - when they are in front of the Rabbi perhaps they behave differently.

And more importantly - if the Rabbi gives tochecha it is easy for people to ignore. 'That is only for Rabbis' they think to themselves, 'not common people'. If someone like you or I give tochecha the person realises that it applies to them just like everyone else. (back when I was a Shul Rabbi I knew the sermon was successful when someone came to me and said 'What a great sermon! And every word of it applied to the person sitting next to me! - he didn't know that he was also one of the people I was speaking to!)

Always make sure that you are actually right before you give someone tochecha. Maybe it is you who have been doing things wrong all these years.

There is an important piece written by Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetsky in Emes L'Yaakov on Shulchan Aruch. In explaining the laws of Tisha B'Av he begins by pointing out that there were traditionally two different customs about whether to wear clean clothes on Shabbat Chazon or not. The Jews of Vilna would wear clean clothes, others wouldn't. Both are correct.

He goes on to explain the importance of knowing the difference between a Torah halacha, a Rabbinic halacha, a fence and a minhag. It is not enough to copy what your parents (or friends) do - even if they are completely righteous and do everything correctly. Because if you only copy them without understanding why you are doing it you will come to transgress many sins.

If you don't know the difference between what is your custom and what is halacha you will see others doing things differently than you. You will come to think of them as sinners - thereby transgressing many Torah prohibitions. You may even come to hate them for what you perceive as an infringement, when in fact they are following their minhagim and are doing what they are supposed to be doing.

I gave an analogy (though this is not in R' Yaakov). If you don't rely on heter mechira for Shmita that is fine. But if you think that someone who does is any less of a good Jew than you - you do not love your neighbour as yourself. That person is following the ruling of his or her Rabbi, and the ruling of many great Rabbis of previous generations. It may not be for you, but that doesn't mean they are doing something wrong. (If you choose not to eat in their home that is your own decision to be discussed with your Rabbi. There are different views on that. But if you are going to turn down an invitation do it with love, not to make machlokes!)

The Beis Hamikdash was destroyed because of causeless hatred. It was also destroyed (according to the Gemara in Shabbos 54b-55a) because people didn't give each other tochecha. Look at the source sheet and you will see how difficult it is to give tochecha. But work on loving someone first, then they will thank you when you help them improve their relationship with G-d!

(one final point - even if you do give tochecha in the nicest possible way and the person still doesn't listen to you - that doesn't make them a wilful sinner. The Chazon Ish in Yoreh Deah 2:28 says that since nobody nowadays really knows how to give tochecha, nobody can be called a wilful sinner. Without adequate tochecha they are still considered an accidental sinner.)

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