#33. Not to Put Any Jew to Shame.
"Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbor, and not suffer sin upon him."
In our previous lesson, we discussed contradictory commandments. In this lesson, we explore a bit further, whether or not the Sages have improperly defined any commandment.
Maimonides (Rambam) tells us that today's commandment, 613.33, reads "not to put any Jew to shame." However, the underlying commandment, Leviticus 19:17, does not articulate such a principle. In fact, Lev. 19:17 commands us to in every way ("in any wise") rebuke our fellow Jew ("neighbor"). How can I rebuke my fellow Jew without shaming my fellow Jew?
The answer, the Sages tell us, is to be careful about how to rebuke. One Sage says that if the sinner feels embarrassed, the rebuke is liable to boomerang back. That is, the sinner may ignore the rebuke, causing it to have zero effect. In fact, the Sage says that the sinner may thereafter sin more. The implication is that the one who rebukes is responsible for the future behavior of the sinner! However, if such a thing were true, no one would or should rebuke! It is of course the sinner who is responsible for his or her own behavior.
Another Sage tells us that, in order to avoid embarrassing or angering the sinner, rebuke should be broken into smaller confrontations. It is difficult enough to confront a sinner, but more so if we must be on guard against the boomerang. Must we now strategize how to be so diplomatic that the sinner barely knows he or she has been rebuked?
Clearly, the Law itself is blunt and without such diplomacy. The Law says, "Thou shalt" and "Thou shalt not." There is no hemming and hawing, no shuffling of feet, in the Law. The Law is not a series of suggestions, but of commands, firm and demanding. By strategizing diplomacy, one is devising ways to soften the impact of the Law, i.e., thinking more about the feelings of the sinner than about God or the commandments! It is diluting God's message for the sake of protecting the sinner's feelings! It is also a way to avoid being blamed for "rebuking incorrectly." Is there such as thing as "rebuking incorrectly"? The Sages seems to think so.
God rebukes bluntly. To rebuke bluntly is to therefore be godly. To be blunt does not however mean one must be harsh in tone, or aggressive in nature; it only means to say what you mean and not beat around the bush. Isaiah was not diplomatic, he was blunt. In fact, there is no prophet, from Amos to Zephaniah, who did not rebuke the Jewish people bluntly. What about Jesus? How did He say to rebuke?
"If your brother sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If the listens to you, you have gained your brother" (Matthew 18:15). Many versions say "sins against you." To be clear, a sin against God which becomes public knowledge is a sin against the community, and therefore a sin against you personally, a member of the community of God. You therefore have every right to rebuke a sinner, even one you do not know. You are rebuking the sin, and if the sinner takes it or makes it personal, that is not your fault or concern.
"But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." (Matthew 18:16-18)
Jesus does not beseech a diplomatic approach, but instead bluntness. There is, however, a strategy of ascending aggressiveness:
Step 1: Be bold and confront the sinner. Note "brother" - a fellow believer in the Law. This does not necessarily mean a person who "believes in Christ" because many who profess such belief do not practice Torah. Such a "Christian" would reject even the rebuke of Jesus Christ!
Step 2: If the first rebuke is rejected, bring 2-3 witnesses (according to the manner of the Law).
Step 3: If the second rebuke is rejected, bring the entire church (congregation, or community of Torah believers) to confront and rebuke as a whole.
Step 4: If the third rebuke is rejected, you are to treat this person as a pagan, which means either excommunication or death, according to the Law. You are not to permit a pagan to walk around your Torah community freely, flouting the Law. If you do, you are aiding and abetting the sin. This is not only against Torah, but is also a recipe for societal destruction.
Nowhere does Jesus suggest to be diplomatic. In fact, in each succeeding confrontation, the rebuke becomes more embarrassing for the sinner.
The point of rebuke is to shame a fellow Torah believer. To therefore suggest not to shame a fellow Torah believer is not possible nor according to Torah. If one wishes to begin a rebuke kindly, do so with the knowledge that rejection of such kindness will demand a much more abrupt rebuke later.
There is another logical point to make: If the confrontation is too subtle, it could be construed that the sin continued due to the weakness of the rebuke. A weak rebuke is almost worse than no rebuke! This does not mean we cannot kindly rebuke, for it is not commanded to rebuke with bullish aggression. Yet it is also not commanded to rebuke with kindness.
What about "judge not lest ye be judged" or "do not judge"? Briefly, to "judge" is to pass sentence. Only Sanhedrin can pass any actual sentence of excommunication, death, or other punishment for committing sins against Torah. What we are commanded to do in rebuking is to produce evidence.
We are commanded to warn the sinner, "Don't make me take this to the Sanhedrin. Fix this now." Or, as Jesus said, "Go and sin no more."
When a sinner says, "Judge not" or "let the one without sin throw the first stone," it is a way to avoid rebuke. The sinner is saying, "Don't rebuke me or I'll rebuke you." It is a threat with a whisper of a promise, which is, "Don't tell on me and I won't tell on you. Let's both just enjoy our sins. We're not hurting anyone." Such words come not from God but from Satan.
This is just part of the lesson for today. Listen in for more!
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