A number of years ago we had the pleasure of being the Toronto coordinators of the Torah Ethics Project. Its slogan was “Some of the most obvious mitzvoth are some of the hardest to keep”. Nowhere is this more evident than in parshat kedoshim. Do not take revenge, don’t gossip, love your neighbour as yourself, be in awe of your parents, treat all fairly, give people the benefit of the doubt, don’t mislead people are some of the mitzvot to which almost all subscribe - in theory but often less so in practice. They really are hard to constantly and consistently follow. 

 

Already the Talmud noted (Erchin 16b) that for all intents and purposes the mitzva of hochacha, rebuking a neighbour no longer applies. This is true on both ends  of the rebuke - we are incapable of giving rebuke in a sensitive and caring manner and even if we could do so people have little patience for others telling them how to live more pious lives. If such was true some 1,800 years ago I can only imagine how much more true it is today. Instead of rebuke bringing people closer together - aren’t friends supposed to offer constructive criticism - and bringing them closer to G-d, rebuke for the last 1,800 years or so is likely to distance us from people and from G-d. “Just as it is a mitzva to say that which will be heeded it is a mitzva not to say that which will not be heeded" (Yevamot 65b). 

 

Because proper rebuke is both impossible and a necessary pre-condition for holding someone responsible for their “sins” even those who argued that the mitzva of vehavta leracha kamocha only applies to those who are our re’eacha bmitzvoth, friends in mitzvoth, and not to habitual sinners would agree that the mitzva is applicable to all today. Applicable but difficult. 

 

Just how difficult can be seen by the fact that the sefirah period we are now in the midst of and meant as joyous time linking Pesach and Shavuot first became one of semi-mourning because the students of Rabbi Akiva “did not demonstrate respect to one another” (Yevamot 62b). Seems that we have not learned much in the past 1,875 years. 

 

It was Rabbi Akiva who taught the importance of every et in the Torah, a word which appears rather superfluous or at best stylistic. The etintroducing “and you shall fear G-d” teaches that we must also fear Torah scholars. 

 

Picking up on this theme Rav Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenberg in his 19th century commentary Haketav Vakabalah[1] notes that the Torah uses the term et in the mitzvoa of rebuking one’s friend, hochecah toecheah et amitacha. This is in contradistinction to the other mitzvoth in this chapter which all use the phrasing ‘le' to as in vehavta lereacha kamocha. The Ketav Vekablah asserts that this is a fundamental if subtle distinction. To rebuke leamitcha would mean that it is you telling your neghbour what they are doing wrong. It is the rebuker acting towards the rebukee. 

 

On the other hand et amitecha means we are not talking to our neigbour but with him. We may not begin with the assumption that I have the truth and am imparting it to my neighbour who has done wrong. Rather we must approach our task with the assumption that our neighbour may have done no wrong. We certainly are not the ones to judge. Rather we discuss the case at hand and see if perhaps there might be a better approach that could have been used and should be moving forward. 

 

As great leaders know one is much much more likely to get people to embrace an idea if they feel it is their own. By carefully leading a discussion - asking questions instead of making statements - the group will come to see things from a broader vantage point and embrace the idea as their own- which it really can be. It is not rebuke we are interested in but in moving the discussion in a way where people will draw their own superior conclusions. And if they don’t then it is the rebuker who has failed. 

 

The Torah says does not use the word rebuke (le'emchot) but rather lhocee'ach, which means to prove. If one want to succeed in any area one does not tell others what to do but rather demonstrates why that which they are doing is a proper path to choose. Shabbat Shalom!


[1] This beautiful but not well-known work which translates as The Written word and the Received Tradition was an attempt to show the complete unity between the written and oral law. This ushered in a series of biblical commentaries of the late 19th and early 20th century of the same genre such as the Torah Temimah, The Malbim and The Netziv. Such a genre became crucial as Biblical criticism developed in the 19th century and undermined such unity.