Parashat Aḥarei Mot-Kedoshim
From Love of Man to Social Reform
-Rabbi Elyashiv Knoll-
The mitzvah (commandment) to “love your fellow as yourself” is the foundation for all social reform. It is impossible to envision any type of social change with respect to righteousness and justice without first instituting the basic principle of caring for others. Only on the basis of this principle, and only after we fully comprehend and internalize it, can we truly strive to achieve a social justice that is not potentially rife with corruption and otherwise ruinous. “Social justice” frameworks in name only, which are not rooted in the love of others, have the potential to become deviant and create social corruption in lieu of justice.
It is for this reason that when the Torah turns to mankind and makes certain demands for social justice, most of which appear further on in the book of Leviticus (in the parashot of Behar and Beḥukotai), it first appeals to the individual and commands “love your fellow as yourself.” However, this is not enough. Unless the Torah spells out what this commandment entails, a person may think that they in fact do love their fellow as the Torah requires, but this is often not the case. Therefore, the Torah explains how this type of love is established through a day to day grind involving various interpersonal mitzvoth.
The Torah in this week’s parasha commands that “You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your fellow, but you shall not bear a sin on his account.” The verse sets forth three commandments: (a) the prohibition against hating a brother, (b) the commandment of rebuke, and (c) the prohibition against bearing sin. Maimonides, in the laws of De’ot, (6:6-9), interprets this verse in three ways: When one person wrongs another, the latter should not remain silent and despise him as [II Samuel 13:22] states concerning the wicked: “And Avshalom did not speak to Amnon, neither good nor bad, for Avshalom hated Amnon.” Rather, he is commanded to make the matter known and ask him: “Why did you do this to me? “Why did you wrong me regarding that matter?” as [Leviticus 19:17] states: “You shall surely rebuke your fellow.” In other words, it is prohibited to keep hatred locked inside. If one is troubled by something, he must confront his fellow and raise the relevant issue. This is what the Torah stresses by stating “You shall not hate your brother in your heart.” Keeping things inside, without giving them expression, may cause resentment and ultimately hatred. The continuation of the verse commands that one must express exactly what it was that caused him pain.
This is what the Torah means by stating “but you shall not bear a sin on his account.” When shall you not bear sin on his account? When you inform him what caused you pain, so that he may apologize and remedy his actions. However, the question remains as to the proper method of delivering this message, so that it achieves its purpose by reconciling the two parties and furthering the party at fault so they do not falter again. Saying the words, although important and necessary, is not sufficient. The third part of the verse provides guidance: “You shall surely rebuke your fellow, but you shall not bear a sin on his account.” The Torah demands not only that we do not keep our resentment bottled up, but also that we express it in a manner that furthers the antagonist, thus absolving us of sin on his account.
Maimonides proceeds to introduce a new commentary on the verse “You shall surely rebuke your fellow.” It is a mitzvah for a person who sees that his fellow Jew has sinned or is following an improper path [to attempt] to correct his behavior and to inform him that he is causing himself a loss by his evil deeds as [Leviticus 19:17] states: “You shall surely rebuke your fellow.” This is another form of rebuke. When a person sees his fellow acting in what he deems an inappropriate manner, irrespective of the circumstances, he must rebuke him. Providing rebuke is not a simple thing to do. Am I worthy of providing rebuke? Will my fellow accept my admonishment? And most importantly, how should I say things so that they will best be heard?
It is clear that for rebuke to be successful it must be born of love. In other words, it cannot be delivered provocatively, since then it will not be heard. The backdrop must be one of caring and friendship.
Therefore, a rebuke must be prefaced by complimentary tones and words so that the person being admonished shall truly feel loved and appreciated by the admonisher. Only then should the rebuke be delivered. In this manner, there is a chance that the admonished person will understand that he is being rebuked from a place of love and caring place and not out of spite. Moreover, the rebuke must be presented in such a way that the person receiving it is not made to feel inferior; as if the situation was reversed there is no guarantee that the result would have been any different. In other words, rebuke should not be condescending, implying that the giver is good and the receiver is bad. In summary, Maimonides adds another explanation: “At first, a person who admonishes a colleague should not speak to him harshly until he becomes embarrassed as [Leviticus 19:17] states: “but you shall not bear a sin on his account.” In other words, despite the obligation to rebuke, we must consider where to make our statement, so that our fellow is not embarrassed. Therefore, it is absolutely forbidden to rebuke another in front of others, and the remarks must be made in a manner that will not embarrass anyone.
Parashat Kedoshim includes additional interpersonal mitzvoth that in the aggregate create a foundation for interpersonal relationships, which is the basic building block of a just and caring society.
In conclusion, I would like to quote several sentences from a letter written by the author Yehoshua Radler Feldman (known by his pen name as Rabbi Binyamin), who was a frequent visitor to Kibbutz Kefar Etzion during the years before the War of Independence (many of the members of the kibbutz were killed on the fourth of Iyar, 1948, the day before the declaration of the State of Israel): “I permit myself one word of praise for the people of the place I have just left: You are filled with the spirit of brotherhood and friendship. This is apparent everywhere … They are certainly not angels of the Heavenly Host. It is possible that somewhere deep down, in some hidden corner of the soul, there is a fleeting thought, a murmur, which is not rooted in brotherhood and friendship. It is possible. But if a person who stays with them for a fortnight or a month does not discern any of this, if he only sees eyes sparkling of brotherly innocence, if he sees 120 adults acting as one family … if the onlooker does not discern any notion of ingratitude, jealousy or resentment, then this is something great, a remedy for the soul.” Such a society will naturally strive for social justice and even succeed, slowly but surely, in implementing it.
Rabbi Elyashiv Knoll is the head of the marriage department of Tzohar