Never underestimate the power of finding a good point in others, even when they don’t seem worthy of being judged favorably.
By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
This week’s Torah portion (in Israel!) is “Kedoshim” (Leviticus 19:1-20:27) and although it is one of the shortest Torah portions it is also one of the most mitzvah-packed portions! Over 50 mitzvot can be found in this week’s reading.
One of these mitzvot is the mitzvah to rebuke people who sin, as it says, “You shall chastise your fellow man.”
When we see someone doing something wrong we are not to turn a blind eye, but rather, we are supposed to reach out and point out that person’s failings–but always, and only, in a nice way!
Indeed, as the commentators point out, this may be one of the hardest mitzvot to fulfill because to give rebuke one must be sure to be sincere, gentile, kind, and not condescending. One who cannot ensure these attributes when giving rebuke should not attempt to do so!
In order to understand how to properly perform the mitzvah of rebuke, the story is told of the great Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, known as the “Chofetz Chaim” (d. 1933), who was once traveling and stopped to spend the night at a Jewish owned inn.
At one point he saw a gentleman enter the inn who seemed to be an extremely boorish individual. This fellow walked in, sat himself down at a table, and barked at the innkeeper for some food. He ordered fried goose and vodka. When the food arrived he simply inhaled it, eating like a pig, and without making the required blessings before and after eating.
The rabbi was pondering going over to the man to tell him that his behavior was inappropriate and unacceptable. The innkeeper noticed that the Chofetz Chaim was about to approach the man and quickly went over to him and said, “I must tell you something about this person before you approach him.”
In the time of the czars, the Russians drafted Jews into the czarist army. They actually took young boys and drafted them into Czar Nicholas’s army. When they took these children, it was not for two or three years – it was for 35 years. It was a living hell.
The innkeeper explained to the Chofetz Chaim that this individual was grabbed away from the Jewish community at age 7 and was forced to remain in the czar’s army in Siberia and elsewhere for 35 years. He explained that the man did not know the shape of the letter Aleph and had no manners because he never had any type of proper upbringing. He was, in fact, a person without any spiritual characteristics other than the fact that he still remembered that he was a Jew.
Armed with this information, the Chofetz Chaim went over to the individual and told him “I am jealous of the reward you will be getting! For you to remain a Jew after all you experienced is amazing.”
The man started crying. From that day on, he became very attached to the Chofetz Chaim and eventually became an observant Jew.
We must remember that every person has some positive aspects and some redeeming value, no matter how low he has sunk. If, when rebuking someone, we focus on the person’s faults and negative character traits, we will not get anywhere with him. The person will only hate you for your rebuke.
But if we make special mention on the person’s positive traits and qualities when rebuking him. We will be successful in reaching the person and influencing him.
This is what the Chofetz Chaim did with that Jewish Russian soldier who was so rude and abrasive. Had he focused in on his boorishness, the fellow would have likely ignored the Chofetz Chaim at best, and probably would have hated him. However, since the Chofetz Chaim was able to find some positive aspects in this person he established a connection, which eventually led him to coming around.
For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s double Torah portion, click on the links below:
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