Ask The Rabbi

How do you tell someone that they are doing something wrong?

The Color of HeavenArtscroll
Topic: Rebuke, Giving

Harlan from Jerusalem wrote:

Recently someone came over to me and asked me if I shave with a razor. When I told them that I do, he told me that the Torah says that this is not allowed, and that I must use an electric shaver or grow a beard. I was very hurt by this and angry that a stranger mixed into my affairs. Later I heard that the person was actually obligated to rebuke me by Torah law. I can't believe that the Torah would command someone to hurt another person's feelings. Was he really right in 'butting in'?


Dear Harlan,

The Torah in Parshat Kedoshim writes:

"You should not hate your brother in your heart; rebuke your countryman and do not bear a sin on his account."

Maimonides and other Halachic authorities quote this verse as the source for a positive commandment to rebuke someone who has transgressed a law. This applies to both Biblical and Rabbinic laws. In your case we are talking about the violation of a Torah commandment so he was obligated to admonish you.

But that's not all there is to it. Although we've established that there's a commandment to rebuke, we must understand that there are also laws that govern the method of rebuke.

Maimonides in his Codes writes that the one who rebukes must do so due to pure motivation of returning him to the path of Torah. If the transgression was done privately, then the rebuke should also be in private. It should be done with care, compassion and with honor. The point is not to sting the person or to satisfy some perverse sense of pleasure -- rather to help him do the right thing.

In short he did the right thing but probably could have done it in a more sensitive way. (I personally would never rebuke anyone holding an open razor!)

Sources:

  • Vayikra 19:17
  • Maimonides - The Book of Mitzvot, positive commandment 205.
  • Sefer Hachinuch - positive commandment 239.
  • Avotot Ahava, by Rabbis Moshe Newman and Mordechai Becher, Sifrei Nof Publishers, Jerusalem, pp. 54,62.
  • Maimonides - The Codes, The Book of Knowledge, 6:7.

 
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