Rebuke in Love

Here is another good article on confrontation that was shared in our Pirkei Avot group.


“Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor again and again but do not take sin upon yourself because of it” (19:17).

The Hebrew word ho’khei’cha (rebuke, reprove) denotes giving correction or, as Rabbi S.R. Hirsch describes:

[Reproof is]…making someone aware of an unpleasant fact about himself; to explain to him that he has been guilty of an intellectual error, or that he has strayed from the path of morality.1

In so doing, we do not risk harboring any resentment or anger against him. An equally negative reaction is to complain of it to friends. Neither action brings release and healing as the cause of the anger remains unchanged. If one cares at all for oneself and for the other the grievance must be addressed and confronted. By bringing the matter into the light and helping him to recognize and understand what he has done, we are demonstrating that we care for our neighbor and that we do not “hate him in our heart.” Hirsch adds, “Bearing a grudge in silence bespeaks an ignoble character.”2 He points to a clear example of this in 2 Samuel 13:22, “And Absalom spoke to Amnon neither bad nor good; because Absalom hated Amnon.”

The Midrash reinforces this idea in stating that the commandment ‘ho’khei’ach to’khei’ach’ (rebuke him again and again) indicates that, “As a rule, we should not remain silent but should repeatedly, again and again if necessary, remonstrate with our brother or sister if we see them commit a sinful, harmful action, no matter the magnitude… so that the sinner may, if possible, gain insight into his conduct and mend his ways” (Baba Metzia 31a).

The Talmud states even more strongly that even if one’s own conduct is blameless if one does not do what is possible to help others not to go astray, and rather endeavor to encourage them to mend their ways, one is considered an accomplice in their guilt (Shabbat 54a–55a). This applies in one’s family, regarding one’s fellow citizens, and even the whole world. If we shy away from confrontation, when it is healthy and necessary, or if we take revenge or bear a grudge, we are “taking the sin upon ourselves”. Engaging in confrontation in a critical, negative, unloving manner also misses the mark. Healthy reproof is accomplished with a heart attitude of compassion and forgiveness, in a non-judgmental, non-condemnatory manner.

Healthy, humble confrontation is usually difficult. To open one’s heart in a willingness to be transparent and vulnerable takes courage. One may possibly be rejected. One’s offer of reconciliation may be refused.

However, to hold onto one’s anger and resentment against another person is to risk incurring the sin of ‘sinat chinam’, baseless or groundless hatred. The Babylonian Talmud, in Yoma 9b, points out that the Second Temple was destroyed on account of this sin and states, “The offense of groundless hatred is equivalent to the three sins of idolatry, sexual immorality and murder,” which caused the fall of the First Temple.

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin comments: “People guilty of ‘groundless hatred’ never repent because they never acknowledge their sin …they will justify their own personal hatreds … no one repents of its commission or roots it out of his or her heart.”3

To root it out of one’s heart requires action – the action of ho’khei’cha! Any person who is sincerely seeking to serve God will appreciate correction. As King Solomon expressed: “It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:5).

Loving confrontation and “rebuke” is what the Lord calls us to in order to ground and establish healthy, godly relationships; relationships that are founded upon and filled with His loving-kindness; relationships that are bathed in the light of His truth.


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