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The Mitzva of Tokhecha

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Translated and adapted by Rav Eliezer Kwass

[The original is a student summary of a shiur given on Motzaei Shabbat Parashat Beshalach 5743. This article was not reviewed by Rav Lichtenstein.]

          This discussion of tokhecha begins with two possible definitions of the mitzva (and translations of the word tokhecha); follows with the laws concerning how to give tokhecha; and closes with three goals of the mitzva.



          The Torah (Vayikra 19:17) tells us, "Do not hate your brother in your heart; surely give tokhecha to your friend, and do not bear sin on his account."  What is the relationship between the first half of the verse, "Do not hate your brother in your heart," and the rest of the sentence?  Is the whole sentence a single integrated unit or does the beginning stand on its own?

          The Rashbam, Ibn Ezra, Ramban, and others see the second half of the verse as a natural continuation of the first.  The Torah instructs us as follows:

          If you are wronged by your friend, do not keep it inside, hating him in your heart - "lo tisna et achikha bi-levavekha."  Rather, air your grievances against him - "hokheiach tokhiach et amitekha."  This new awareness will put an end to the aggressor's sin - "ve-lo tisa alav cheit."

          Tokhecha, open communication by the victim to the sinner, prevents secret hatred and aids the sinner in bettering himself.  Rather than letting an aggressive act breed animosity, tokhecha helps to restore peaceful relations.  Instead of just accepting the aggressive or insensitive individual's behavior, tokhecha starts him on the path to change.

          The Ibn Ezra reads the last section of the verse differently - the one who GIVES tokhecha avoids sinning, not (as in the Ramban's approach) the one receiving it.  The Torah, says the Ibn Ezra, relates to the possibility that one has MISINTERPRETED another's behavior as sinful.  The verse reads as follows:

Speak openly about what another SEEMS to have done - "hokheiach tokhiach et amitekha" - so you do not unjustly suspect him and thereby sin against him - "ve-lo tisa alav cheit."

          Tokhecha is a way of avoiding suspiciousness and resentment.  Very often what we interpret as a sin towards us was really not; what was perceived as an insult was really an innocuous comment; an aggressive act was really an accident.


          The gemara in Erkhin (16b) seems to view "hokheiach tokhiach" as distinct from "lo tisna."

"From where do we know that if one sees his friend doing something improper he should rebuke him?  For it says, 'You should surely rebuke your friend.'"

          The Torah includes two separate mitzvot within the same verse.  Regardless of how it affects the relationship between you, rebuke your friend if he does something wrong.

          This second kind of tokhecha, rebuke and instruction, is much broader in scope.  Rebuke is not only a method of avoiding hatred, limited to one who has wronged another, but a way of helping another, who is acting improperly, to serve God better.

          The gemara (Berakhot 31a) sees the conversation between Eli and Chana (Shemuel I 1:14) - she praying silently and intensely, and he suspecting her of being drunk and castigating her accordingly - as an example of tokhecha:  "Said Rabbi Elazar, From here we see that if one sees his friend engaging in improper behavior he should rebuke him."  Tosafot (31b s.v. Davar) are bothered by the gemara's need for a source for rebuke when the Torah commands it explicitly (according to the gemara in Erkhin).  They note the expression "IMPROPER behavior" (as opposed to SINFUL behavior) and explain:

"'Improper behavior' - even though no biblical transgression is involved.  For it is obvious that if a biblical transgression has been committed one must rebuke, since it is written 'You shall surely rebuke your friend.'"

          It is somewhat unclear what Tosafot believe the gemara in Berakhot teaches us.  Two possibilities present themselves:

1.  Perhaps tokhecha itself only applies to biblical transgressions and Eli's comment adds a new requirement to help improve behavior which is merely improper.

2.  It is more likely that the gemara in Berakhot widens the scope of the mitzva of tokhecha itself.  From the gemara in Erkhin we might have thought that tokhecha only applies to biblical transgressions.  The gemara in Berakhot quotes Eli's comment about Chana's suspected drunkenness; yet there is no biblical transgression against getting drunk.  It teaches us that the mitzva of tokhecha itself is geared not only to preventing further transgressions, but helping a fellow Jew improve his character.  The language of the gemara in Erkhin - "one who sees his friend engaged in SHAMEFUL behavior (davar meguneh)" - is also much stronger than that of Berakhot - "IMPROPER behavior (davar she-eino hagun)."  Tokhecha, says the gemara in Berakhot, is a mitzva requiring one to help his friend better himself, whatever his shortcomings happen to be.  Not only biblical and rabbinic transgressions are included, but improper behavior as well.


          The Rambam mentions both types of tokhecha in Hilkhot De'ot.

6:5 "Anyone who hates another Jew in his heart transgresses a negative commandment ..."

6:6 refers to AIRING GRIEVANCES.  "When a man sins against another, he should not despise him quietly, as it says with regards to the wicked, 'Avshalom did not speak at all to Amnon, neither good nor bad, for Avshalom hated Amnon.'  Rather, it is a mitzva to tell him and say to him, 'Why did you do this TO ME?  Why did you sin TO ME in this matter?' for it says, 'You should certainly rebuke your friend.'  If he asks for forgiveness you must forgive him; and the one who is to forgive should not be cruel, as it says, 'Avraham prayed to God (on behalf of Avimelekh who had been smitten after taking Sarah, Avraham's wife).'"

6:7 speaks of REBUKE.  "One who sees that his friend has sinned or gone on an improper path is commanded to bring him back to good and tell him that he is harming HIMSELF through his bad ways, for it says, 'Surely rebuke your friend' ..."

          The Rambam rules that both types of tokhecha are biblical mitzvot.


          The beraita in Erkhin 16b rules that one may rebuke only in a way that does not embarrass the recipient (literally, "cause his face to change").  Rashi seems to limit this to cases of rebuking IN PUBLIC;  it seems that it is permissible to rebuke in private even if it will end up embarrassing the recipient.

          Though the Rambam clearly argues - he writes (De'ot 6:8), "From here it is forbidden to embarrass another Jew, and CERTAINLY in public" (implying that even in private it is prohibited) - it is not clear how far-reaching a prohibition this is.  The Rambam writes at the beginning of that halakha, "One who rebukes his friend, AT FIRST should not speak harshly to him until he is embarrassed, as it says, 'Do not bear sin on his account.'"  He then elaborates on how grave a sin shaming others is, but does not speak of whether there comes a point where it is permissible to shame another in order to rebuke him.  He then distinguishes between interpersonal sins and sins against God.  With regard to interpersonal sins, he does not  explicitly say that it is ever permissible to shaming another.  However, with regard to sins against God, the Rambam writes that if one did not repent when properly rebuked in private, it is permissible to publicly admonish him, "like all the prophets of Israel did."

          Is it permissible for one who has been wronged to choose not to give tokhecha?  This is dependent on the outcome of our previous discussion of the definition of tokhecha.  Tokhecha as a means of avoiding hatred is only needed when one feels hatred or resentment.  If one feels comfortable forgiving the aggressor, there is no need for tokhecha.  However, tokhecha as educational rebuke is not dependent on the relationship between the two but is aimed at bettering a sinner.  Even though the one who has been wronged bears no ill will towards the sinner, he is still a sinner in need of repentance and tokhecha.

          The Rambam, as stated earlier, mentions both types of tokhecha.  It follows that even one who forgives the sin done towards him is still obligated to rebuke in order to help the other repent.  Appropriately, the Rambam's formulation of this halakha (6:9) is:

"If the person who was sinned against does not want to rebuke the sinner or to speak to him because the sinner is an imbecile or mentally disturbed - if he forgives him in his heart and does not hate him and does not rebuke him - this is considered an act of piety.  The Torah was only particular about avoiding hatred."

          The Rambam had to choose a case where educational rebuke would not be effective, i.e. with regard to an imbecile or an insane person.  Otherwise, there would still be an obligation to set the person on the right path.


          What should one do when the person receiving tokhecha is not interested in listening?  Two talmudic passages dealing with this issue seem to contradict each other.

a.  The gemara in Yevamot 65b says, "Just as it is a mitzva to say something that will be heeded, so it is a mitzva not to say something that will not be heeded.  Rabbi Abba said: It is an obligation."

b.  On Erkhin 16b the gemara asks. "How far does tokhecha extend?  Rav says until hitting and Shemuel says until cursing."

          Although a lone opinion in the Shita Mekubetzet (Bava Metzia 31a) says that this is referring to the one administering tokhecha (!) - that he is able to hit or curse - the simple reading of the gemara is that it is referring to the reaction of the one who has received tokhecha.  Tokhecha is to be given until one gets hit or cursed.  [This is born out by the gemara's reference to Yehonatan giving tokhecha to Shaul until Shaul was ready to hit him.]

          The first gemara seems to prohibit admonishing when it will not be heeded, while the second has rebuke extending until the rebuker is cursed or hit - certainly in the second case the sinner is not interested in listening!

          It seems that the two gemarot are referring to different goals of tokhecha.  If the goal of tokhecha is repentance, one should continue to rebuke only if he is listened to.  Continuing to give tokhecha even if the sinner does not want to listen must relate to a different goal - standing up for the truth (see a previous article "The Mitzva of Rebuke" by Rav Yair Kahn who spoke of not remaining apathetic to sin as an alternate goal of tokhecha).  If one is motivated, for the sake of Heaven, not to allow sin to stand unnoticed, rebuke continues even if there is no response.

          The Rambam, we mentioned above, relates to a third goal: educating the public about sin in order to avoid desecration of God's Name.

          Thus, three goals of tokhecha emerge:

1. helping the sinner repent;

2. standing up for the truth and against sin, even if it will not result in repentance;

3. educating the public.

[Taken from Daf Kesher #32, Shevat 5746, vol. 1, pp. 121-122.]


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