Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Rebuke and Accountability

In the synagogue of Radin, a sign hung on the wall: “Anyone who dares to raise his hand against his friend will be placed in cherem!” Once, a notorious bully beat another Jew viciously and the Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, instructed the shamash to punish the offender accordingly. Fearing a reprisal, the shamash conveniently absented himself from shul for the following tefillah.
As soon as the Chofetz Chaim noticed the absence of the shamash, he took matters into his own hands. The gadol ascended the bima himself and declared, “In order to fulfill the mitzvah of ‘fearing no man,’ (Devarim 1:17) I hereby pronounce so-and-so in cherem until he repents and asks forgiveness!”
A few hours later, the bully entered the shul in a contrite frame of mind, admitted his sin before everyone, and publicly begged forgiveness of his victim!
The Chofetz Chaim often directed other Rabbonim to actively rebuke their congregations. He would say, “Picture the heavenly judgment of an average baal habayis. The court will ask him if he set aside time for Torah study, and he will also be asked all the other questions normally put before the deceased. The defendant will offer various excuses but none will be accepted because the heavenly court knows the absolute truth. Finally, the baal habayis will try to exonerate himself by saying that the rav of his community never told him anything was wrong! And this excuse will be accepted to a certain degree because you never rebuked your flock. Why allow the sins of all those people to rest on your shoulders?”


Rahel said...

I have to say that this is a disturbing story. I can't believe that the Chofetz Chaim – the heart of shmiras halashon – would deliberately humiliate a person before the entire congregation. I know the Rebbe teaches that one should look suspect at oneself if finding problems with arguments between rabbeim, and I am probably wrong then in some way and just looking for trouble. I also know that it is important to rebuke one's fellow, but chassidus teaches that the rebuke must be with affection (or something like that) and knowing one's own sins. This does not strike me as an example of htat.

Anonymous said...

there is a time and place for everything. This was a "notorious bully". This called for the Chofetz Chaim to do something. You don't stand by while someone is being beaten up. You need to learn the halachos of Shmiras haloshon and don't assume you can determine what is loshon hora just from intellect.

micha said...

This is one of the jobs of a Rav. Sometimes, the only way to protect others from a bully is through cherem.
Just like today, if we heard about someone who severely beat another Jew up (or Gentile for that matter)we would call the police, in those days when the police mostly hated Jews--my Grandmother told me she was afraid to walk down the street in Poland--the only recourse is to publicly shame him to show that this will not be tolerated.
If it could have conceivably been done in a kind and understanding way I am sure he would have done it that way. Sadly, sometimes the only way to stop someone is to publicly blow the whistle.
I think that the reason why this man accepted the Cherem with contrition is because it was the Chofetz Chaim---the paradigm of love for every human being--who was forced to publicly shame him. He saw how completely out of bounds his behavior had been and immediately repented.

Spiritual Dan said...

And further, I would argue that this did not humiliate the bully in the least! So the Chofetz Chaim didn't do anything wrong, Rahel.

I mean to say that any Jew who beats up another Jew is so removed from Jewish values and Yidishkite, such a violent person's level of self-awareness has fallen so far, I don't think shame is possible.