Ethics

For the week ending 9 December 2006 / 18 Kislev 5767

The Wisest Response

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

Question: Someone recently said something to me that I found offensive. I was tempted to react with a very strong response but restrained myself. Afterwards I had second thoughts as to whether I should have allowed this insult to pass. What is the right thing to do?

Answer: Ideally, the best response is silence. In Pirkei Avot (1:17) Rabbi Shimon declares: "All my life I have grown up among Sages and I found nothing better than silence". Rabbi Ovadia of Bartenura explains that this means remaining silent in the face of insult.

If one feels, however, that the situation demands a response he must assure that it is proportional to the insult. In the Talmud (Mesechta Beitza 20b) a story is told to illustrate this point.

A halachic debate raged between the academies of Hillel and Shammai as to whether the owner of an animal offered as a chagigah sacrifice on Yom Tov was to place his hands on it in the ritual of semicha. A member of the Shammai Academy which held that this was forbidden on Yom Tov once saw a member of the Hillel Academy about to do such semicha in the Beit Hamikdash on Yom Tov. "What is the meaning of this semicha?" he challenged him. The response was "What is the meaning of silence?" which was meant to communicate that the challenge was out of order.

The Sage Abaye concluded from this incident that a reaction must be proportionate to the insult.

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