A Taste of Torah in Honor of Shabbat
by Rabbi Avi Weiss
Parashat Achare Mot-Kedoshim
13 Iyar 5758 May 8-9, 1998
This week's reading includes a sentence which deals with the requirement to rebuke one who
has done wrong. (Leviticus 19:17)
The Torah term for admonishing another is ho-khay-ah. Rav Ahron Soloveichik points
out the word means to prove (le-ho-khe-ah) rather than reprove. In other words, the
key to rebuke is to prove to another that he/she possesses inner goodness that waits to be
The mystics express this idea in another way: Every person has a "higher will"
(razon elyon), i.e., an inner element that is essentially good. There is also a
"lower will" (razon tahton), which in Rav Soloveichik's words is the
"intruding stranger" convincing the human being to do wrong.
To illustrate this notion, every time the Talmud records a person speaking of
himself/herself as doing good, the first person - - ana - - is used. But when the
same person talks of himself as doing something evil, the third person
singular - - hahu gavra - - is employed.
This idea has halakhic (religio-legal) standing. A Jewish court in certain
circumstances has the right to force a husband to give his wife a get (Jewish divorce).
Rambam asks why is this get not void? After all, a get must be
given voluntarily. He responds that although this person outwardly refuses to divorce his
wife, inwardly, he wishes to do the right thing and grant the divorce. (Rambam Gerushim,
I remember Rav Ahron sharing the midrash of Elisha ben Avuyah, friend of Rabbi Meir who
strayed, and interestingly became know as Aher - - stranger - - as if
engulfed by an outer evil force. Rav Meir often encouraged Elisha to repent,
insisting that no matter how far he had gone afield, he could come back. No, replied
Elisha - - after all, I heard a bat kol, a voice from heaven, which proclaimed
"return, return, all can return, except for Aher." Looking towards us with
a deep but gentle smile, Rav Soloveichik concluded, the bat kol was misunderstood - - Aher
can't return, but Elisha could.
Growth, by and large, comes through love, not through harsh words; not through ho-khay-ah
as rebuke, but ho-khay-ah as to prove to the other that his or her inner spark is good.
If only it would be ignited.
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