We hope you enjoy this selection of short divrei Torah, presented to family and guests at our Shabbos table as a springboard for discussion. Each one is followed by a question. The responses shared at our table are enlightening, entertaining, and always thought-provoking.
Please share them at your own Shabbos table, and send us your most interesting responses. A selection of the best will be posted on the website, and eventually, included in a book.
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Parshas Kedoshim #1
The Benefit of the Doubt
“Judge your fellow man with justice” (Vayikra 19:15).
Parshas Kedoshim includes numerous mitzvos, which encompass many aspects of our lives and relationships with others. One of these mitzvos is “Judge your fellow man with justice.” Rashi, citing Chazal (Shevuos 30a), writes, “Judge him favorably.”
In his commentary on the gemara in Shevuos, Rashi explains what this means. This passuk is not only about “judging” in the sense of litigants in court – it is also about the way we should view each other’s actions in daily life. We may see a fellow Jew doing something which might be a transgression, but could also be permitted. Rather than jumping to conclusions, we should give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that what he is doing is in fact permitted.
The Torah Temimah explains the underpinnings of this obligation. Every Jew has a “chezkas kashrus” – his actions are assumed to be proper and correct, and that should continue to be our perception.
Even when the circumstances all seem to point in one direction, we should withhold judgment until we know what is really going on. If we allow others the opportunity to explain themselves, we may discover that the facts are quite different than we imagined at first glance.
The story is told of a little girl who had two beautiful apples, one in each hand. Her mother gently asked her, “Sweetheart, would you like to give Mommy one of your apples?”
The little girl looked at her mother, and then quickly bit into both apples. Her mother’s heart sank when she saw her daughter’s selfish behavior, but she said nothing. Then, to the mother’s surprise, the daughter held out one of the apples and said, “Take this one, Mommy. It’s sweeter!”
Question for Discussion:
When did you see another person doing something that appeared to be wrong, only to find that you had misjudged him?
I was on my way to visit a patient in Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Hospital one Shabbos morning. As I walked through the parking lot, I noticed an obviously frum teenager and two frum men hanging around, doing nothing. I couldn’t help but wonder why they were loitering in a hospital parking lot on Shabbos. If they had come to visit a patient or daven in the hospital’s shul, what were they waiting for?
I got my answer when I reached the entrance: the “Azharah LaKohanim” sign was up. A Kohen is not permitted to be in the same building as the body of someone who has died. When there is a death on the premises, the hospital posts this sign to warn Kohanim not to enter until the body of the deceased has been removed. These men were not loiterers – they were Kohanim, fulfilling their special halachic obligation to avoid defilement.
Parshas Kedoshim # 2
“You shall surely rebuke your fellowman, and do not bear sin because of him” (Vayikra 19:17).
This parashah includes a commandment which is neither simple nor easy: rebuking a fellow Jew. The Gemara in Erchin raises a question concerning the obligation to administer rebuke for wrongdoing. What happens if the wrongdoer does not accept the rebuke? Is the rebuker required to try again?
Based on the double wording of the passuk – “hoche’ach tochiach, you shall surely rebuke” – Chazal conclude that he should rebuke him until he listens. However, even this is only up to a point. If the wrongdoer’s face turns colors, indicating that he is embarrassed, it is time to stop, as we learn from the continuation of the passuk, “and do not bear sin because of him” (Erchin 16b). Rashi adds that the rebuke should not be delivered publicly as a means of humiliating the wrongdoer.
Rav Shamshon Rephael Hirsch points out that this mitzvah is not optional – it is obligatory. On a personal level, if someone has harmed us, whether with words or deeds, we should rebuke him. More generally, we should rebuke anyone who strays from the proper path and transgresses.
The basis of the commandment to administer rebuke is our responsibility for one another. If we can prevent a wrongdoing, but choose not to intervene, we are held accountable, and “bear [the wrongdoer’s] sin”: “One who could have rebuked his household and did not, is held responsible for [the sins of] his household. [If he could have rebuked] the people of his city [and did not], he is held responsible for the people of his city. [If he could have rebuked] the entire world [and did not], he is held responsible for the entire world” (Shabbos 54b).
In the Same Boat
The Klei Yakar highlights the connection between rebuke and mutual responsibility with two examples. The first is about borrowing money. In order to receive a loan, the lender will often require a guarantor. In the event that the borrower does not repay the loan, the guarantor is responsible to repay it for him. If the guarantor on a loan sees the borrower spending money in excess, he won’t hesitate to rebuke him, because he knows that he will be the one to pay the price for the borrower’s extravagance.
The second example concerns passengers on a boat. One passenger began drilling a hole under his seat, and all the others on board immediately protested. The passenger with the drill maintained that what he did was none of their business – after all, he was only drilling under his own seat. His contention was nonsense – once the water seeped in to the boat, even if it only came in from the hole under his seat, the boat would sink, taking them all down.
The same is true of transgressions. When one Jew sins, we are all responsible, because we are all affected.
Rebuke is a two-way street. It needs to be given, but it also needs to be accepted. As the Klei Yakar writes, if the rebuker tried to protest but the wrongdoer was not interested, he is no longer responsible. He did what he could, but will not be held accountable for actions over which he had no control.
If giving and receiving rebuke could be properly implemented, writes Rav Hirsch, it would change the world. Unfortunately, already in the time of Chazal resistance to rebuke was strong: “Rabbi Tarfon said, I wonder if there is anyone in this generation who accepts rebuke… Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah said, I wonder if there is anyone in this generation who knows how to give rebuke…” (Erchin 16b).
Question for Discussion:
In order to be properly accepted, rebuke should be properly given. When did you or someone you know of administer rebuke correctly and effectively?Click Here To Respond
“David” relates that “Eliezer” was a regular at the minyan – he came late regularly, sometimes only arriving during Kerias Shema or even ShemonehEsrei.Not only that, because he sat near the front of the shul, he disturbed the davening of those around him as he made his way to his seat.
One day David sent Eliezer a carefully worded email, enclosing a link to an article about davening Shemoneh Esrei with the tzibbur, and in particular, starting Shemoneh Esrei with the tzibbur. He wrote: