November 22, 2019

Weekly Parsha: Kedoshim

One verse, five voices. Edited by Salvador Litvak, Accidental Talmudist

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. –Leviticus 19:17

Rivkah Slonim
Education director, Rohr Chabad Center for Jewish Life at Binghamton University, New York

Figuring out what motivates people is difficult, often entirely impossible. There are even times when it’s hard to discern our own motivations. 

Sometimes, the particular motivation doesn’t matter. A case in point would be giving tzedakah (charity). No matter what reason compels you to give, it is considered a mitzvah. And then there are instances in which motivation is the defining factor. Such a case is discussed in our tripartite verse. 

Rebuking one’s fellow is an important mitzvah, says the Torah, but it is carefully qualified. The prerequisite precedes the commandment in the first part of our verse: Do not hate your brother in your heart. Only then, can you reprimand in a way that is efficacious in causing him to stop sinning. But if malice or jealousy or any negative emotion propels your rebuke, you will carry the sin of your brother for you were not invested in his good and betterment in the first place. That is the sin. 

Before issuing censure, our inner landscape must be scrubbed of any emotion but love and care. Even a hint of antipathy, like the slightest germ, must be cleansed from the area before “inoculating” a patient. Otherwise, instead of healing and protection, the “needle” becomes an entry point for illness. 

Sometimes we fool ourselves into believing our motivation is pure. The Rebbe Maharash would say: You cannot fool God. You cannot even fool your fellow. At most, you fool yourself, but what kind of trick is it to fool a fool?

Rabbi Ilana Grinblat
Vice President of Community Engagement, Board of Rabbis of Southern California

My children and I recently took a rock-climbing class that was followed by a test on how to belay each other. The exam included explaining the safety checks that both people must do before the climber begins to ascend. 

Like rock-climbing, rebuking is a dangerous sport with potential to harm both parties — emotionally if not physically. Rabbi Yehuda Leib, the Mokhi’ah of Polonnoye, understood the first part of this verse as a safety check that should be completed before beginning the second part of this verse. He wrote: 

“One who wishes to rebuke another must first examine whether he holds any personal grudge against the other person. Only if you are sure that you do not hate your brother in your heart are you permitted to rebuke him.”

Imagine how our families, friendships and nation would be if we all checked our motivations before rebuking each other and only did so coming from a place of love and in a loving manner. 

Then we could surely climb to new heights.

Rabbi Mordecai Finley
Ohr HaTorah Synagogue

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart” reminds us that the metaphor “heart” in Hebrew does not mean what it means in English. “Heart” in the Bible is something like the “ego-self.” We are commanded, “Do not follow your hearts …” (Numbers 15:39). The heart/ego self is not bad but it is where patterns of destructiveness (the yetzer harah, or evil inclination) can reign. 

The “lev” (ego-self) is part of our human nature. It is part of the “fast mind,” the contours of which are, for example, thoughts, feelings, emotions, drives, impulses, sensations, intuitions, imagination, all of which collude to tell us what the world is like and what we should do. And the “lev,” in complex situations, is utterly untrustworthy. It might be right about something, but oftentimes is not. The first step toward wisdom and virtue is skepticism about what is happening in your “lev.” 

Regarding “hatred” (perhaps defined as “judgment sans reason plus toxicity”), we are simply told: “Don’t do it.” It is profoundly difficult, however, to “just not hate.” When we discover ourselves hating, we have to develop a skill to replace that ego-self pattern with something else. The second part of the verse is “rebuke” (instead of hating). The Hebrew word for “rebuke” has the same root as the Hebrew word “to prove something to be true.” 

Aim for truth and reason, and hatred will take care of itself.

Rabbi Tal Sessler
Sephardic Temple

Our verse stipulates unconditional love of one’s fellow Jew. Ahavat Yisrael is indeed one of the chief cornerstones of Jewish spirituality. In the Tanya, the Alter Rebbe highlights the importance of national unity. Alluding to the final paragraph of the Amidah, the Alter Rebbe stresses the pervasive linkage between the words “Barchenu Avinu” (bless us our Father), and the words which immediately follow in the Amidah “Koolanu ke ehad.” (All of us as one). For the Alter Rebbe, only when we are “ke-ehad” (united as one) do we merit celestial benedictions. 

In light of recent terror events, the pertinence of this mitzvah looms large. Six months ago, a reputed white supremacist shot and killed Jews in a Conservative synagogue in Pittsburgh. Last month, a reputed white supremacist shot and killed a Jewish woman in a Chabad synagogue. For our enemies, there’s no difference between a Reform Jew, a Conservative Jew or an Orthodox Jew. The same should apply to us. 

As Jews, we share a common fate, irrespective of our manifold theological, political and ethnic differences. The neo-Nazis who shed our blood care not whether we are Sephardic or Ashkenazic, liberal or conservative, ultra-Orthodox or atheistic. And neither should we. “Do not hate your brother in your heart,” is a very timely mitzvah indeed. We must strive more than ever before to achieve it, and learn from the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, who, after the Nazis searched out every Jew in the world with hate, was determined to search out every single Jew in the world with love.

David Sacks

Rebuke. It’s heavy. Nobody wants to be told that they’re doing something wrong. But if nobody helps us, how are we going to improve? 

If you think about it, sometimes criticism can be the very thing we want most. 

Rabbi Noach Weinberg gives a great example. Imagine someone comes up to you and says, “You dropped your wallet.” No one in their right mind would say, “Why are you criticizing me?” The opposite! You’d be so grateful. 

So the question is, how can we point out one another’s flaws in a way where everyone wins, and no one feels diminished? 

Here are a few guidelines I’ve learned from the Torah and life. 

First, remember what your goal is. Is it just to express anger? If so, think over what you want to say five times first — and then don’t say it. 

Don’t attempt to rebuke someone unless you genuinely love them. 

But that’s not enough. You must also be certain that the other person knows that you love them, and that your words are coming only from the most positive place. 

If you’re guilty of the same behavior as the one you’re trying to correct, work on uprooting that behavior in yourself first. Otherwise, as the Talmud teaches, they won’t listen to you. 

Nothing inspires change more than a good role model. If they see that quality realized in you, that will be the best way to inspire the change you seek. 

Finally, be patient. Real change takes time.