Sunday, April 25, 2010

The challenge of instructing others

[A new, excellent edition of Haveil Havalim is here]

One of the most difficult aspects of the rabbinate is the need - job requirement, really - to correct communal or private behavior. Talking in shul, kashrut standards at home, commitment to minyan and to learning Torah, education of children, lashon hara, support for Israel, Jew/non-Jew relations... synagogue rabbis are expected to provide leadership which includes not only modeling, but also instruction, in these areas and more. It's tough.

This past Shabbos I delivered one shiur on the topic [tried to cram in way too much material to the time; I hope people got something out of it], and then I delivered another, related shiur on it this morning. Still working through the ideas in my own head.

As I asked at the Shabbos class: How do you instruct people who don't want to be instructed? What do you do when someone at your Shabbos table mentions his latest way to make money - and it involves fraud? Or when he makes a racist comment, or speaks lashon hara?

Here are three basic sources related to the topic:

Talmud, Erchin 16b
תניא, א"ר טרפון: תמה אני אם יש בדור הזה שמקבל תוכחה, אם אמר לו טול קיסם מבין עיניך, אמר לו טול קורה מבין עיניך. אמר רבי אלעזר בן עזריה: תמיהני אם יש בדור הזה שיודע להוכיח…
Rabbi Tarfon said: I would be stunned if anyone in this generation would accept rebuke. If one would say, ‘Take a splinter from between your eyes,’ he would reply, ‘Take a beam from between your eyes.’
Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah said: I would be stunned if anyone in this generation actually would know how to rebuke.

Talmud, Yevamot 65b
ואמר רבי אילעא משום ר' אלעזר בר' שמעון: כשם שמצוה על אדם לומר דבר הנשמע, כך מצוה על אדם שלא לומר דבר שאינו נשמע. רבי אבא אומר: חובה, שנאמר: +משלי ט'+ אל תוכח לץ פן ישנאך הוכח לחכם ויאהבך.
And R’ Ila’a said, citing R’ Elazar b’R’ Shimon: Just as there is a mitzvah to say that which will be heard, so there is a mitzvah to avoid saying that which will not be heard. Rabbi Abba said: It is obligatory, as it is written, ‘Do not rebuke a scorner, lest he hate you. Rebuke a wise man and he will love you.’

Talmud, Shabbat 55a
מעולם לא יצתה מדה טובה מפי הקדוש ברוך הוא וחזר בה לרעה חוץ מדבר זה, דכתיב +יחזקאל ט+ ויאמר ה' אליו עבר בתוך העיר בתוך ירושלים והתוית תו על מצחות האנשים הנאנחים והנאנקים על כל התועבות הנעשות בתוכה וגו'. אמר לו הקדוש ברוך הוא לגבריאל: לך ורשום על מצחן של צדיקים תיו של דיו, שלא ישלטו בהם מלאכי חבלה. ועל מצחם של רשעים תיו של דם, כדי שישלטו בהן מלאכי חבלה. אמרה מדת הדין לפני הקדוש ברוך הוא: רבונו של עולם, מה נשתנו אלו מאלו? אמר לה: הללו צדיקים גמורים, והללו רשעים גמורים. אמרה לפניו: רבונו של עולם, היה בידם למחות ולא מיחו! אמר לה: גלוי וידוע לפני, שאם מיחו בהם - לא יקבלו מהם. אמרה לפניו: רבונו של עולם, אם לפניך גלוי - להם מי גלוי?
Gd never expressed a good verdict and then retracted it to cause harm, other than in this case: “Gd said to him, pass through the city, through Yerushalayim, and draw a ‘Tav’ on the foreheads of the people…for all of the abominable acts performed in it.”
Gd said to Gavriel: Go inscribe a ‘Tav’ in ink on the heads of the righteous, so that the angels of destruction will not have any effect on them. Inscribe a ‘Tav’ in blood on the heads of the wicked, so that the angels of destruction will have an effect on them.
The trait of Justice said before Gd: Master of the Universe, what is the difference between these and those?
Gd responded: These are completely righteous, those are completely wicked!
It said: Master of the Universe, they ought to have protested, and they did not do so!
Gd responded: I know clearly that had they protested, the people would not have accepted it from them.
It said: Master of the Universe, if to You it is clear, to them is it clear?

So which is it - are we entitled to say, "They won't listen," or not?


  1. great topic, what other sources did you use?BRad

  2. Sure - See the on-line shiur and source sheet here.