Clear the Air Week

לא חרבה ירושלים, אלא בשביל שלא הוכיח זה את זה.

Yerushalayim was only destroyed because they didn’t give tokhachah to [usually translated: rebuke] one another.

Shabbos 119b

Not the sin we usually associate with the destruction of the Beis HaMiqdash. More often quoted is:

מקדש ראשון מפני מה חרב מפני ג’ דברים שהיו בו ע”ז וגלוי עריות ושפיכות דמים… אבל מקדש שני שהיו עוסקין בתורה ובמצות וגמילות חסדים מפני מה חרב מפני שהיתה בו שנאת חנם ללמדך ששקולה שנאת חנם כנגד שלש עבירות ע”ז גלוי עריות ושפיכות

The First Beis haMiqdash, why was it destroyed? Because of three things that were in it: idolatry, sexual immorality, and bloodshed. [Proof-texts elided.] … But the second Beis haMiqdash, when they were involved in Torah, mitzvos and supporting acts of kindness, why was it destroyed? Because there was in it pointless hatred. This teaches you that pointless hatred is equal to the three sins of idolatry, sexual immorality and bloodshed.

However, it is hard to say the two sins — not giving tochakhah (rebuking) and sin’as chinam (pointless hatred) — are unrelated. They are both prohibited in the same pasuq in the Torah (Vayiqra 19:17):

לֹא תִשְׂנָא אֶת אָחִיךָ בִּלְבָבֶךָ; הוֹכֵחַ תּוֹכִיחַ אֶת עֲמִיתֶךָ, וְלֹא תִשָּׂא עָלָיו חֵטְא.

Do not hate your brother in your heart; you shall truly give tokhachah to your compatriot, and do carry for him a sin.

There are three clauses in the pasuq, and it’s unclear how tightly they are coupled. Is “do not hate” and “you shall surely give tokhachah” aspects of one mitzvah, or two distinct mitzvos that happen to be listed in the same pasuq. The Ramban considers both possibilities:

בעבור שדרך השונאים לכסות את שנאתם בלבם כמו שאמר (משלי כו:כד) בִּשְׂפָתָיו יִנָּכֵר שׂוֹנֵא [וּבְקִרְבּוֹ יָשִׁית מִרְמָה] הזכיר הכתוב בהווה ואמר הוֹכֵחַ תּוֹכִיחַ אֶת עֲמִיתֶךָ מצוה אחרת ללמדו תוכחת מוסר “וְלֹא תִשָּׂא עָלָיו חֵטְא” שיהיה עליך אשם כאשר יחטא ולא הוכחת אותו ולזה יטה לשון אונקלוס שאמר וְלָא תְּקַבֵּיל עַל דִּילֵיהּ חוֹבָא שלא תקבל אתה עונש בחטא שלו ואחרי כן צוה שתאהוב אותו והנה השונא את רעהו עובר בלאו והאוהב לו מקיים עשה

והנכון בעיני כי “הוֹכֵחַ תּוֹכִיחַ” כמו וְהוֹכִחַ אַבְרָהָם אֶת אֲבִימֶלֶךְ (בראשית כא:כה) ויאמר הכתוב אל תִשְׂנָא אֶת אָחִיךָ בִּלְבָבֶךָ בעשותו לך שלא כרצונך אבל תוכיחנו מדוע ככה עשית עמדי וְלֹא תִשָּׂא עָלָיו חֵטְא לכסות שנאתו בלבך ולא תגיד לו כי בהוכיחך אותו יתנצל לך או ישוב ויתודה על חטאו ותכפר לו ואחרי כן יזהיר שלא תנקום ממנו ולא תטור בלבבך מה שעשה לך כי יתכן שלא ישנא אותו אבל יזכור החטא בלבו ולפיכך יזהירנו שימחה פשע אחיו וחטאתו מלבו ואחרי כן יצוה שיאהב לו כמוהו

[It says “in your heart”] because it is the way of those who hate to cover up their hate in their hearts. As it says “With his lips, the hater dissembles [and within him he lays up deceit.]” (Mishlei 26:24). It says, “you shall surely give tokhachah to your compatriot” as a different mitzvah to teach him the tokhachos of Mussar. It says “and you shall not carry for him a sin” that there should be guilt upon you when he sins because you did not give him tokhachah. This is the way the Unqelus’s language inclines, as it says [in his translation of these last words], “And do not receive obligation on his account”.

What appears correct in my eyes is that “you shall surely rebuke” is like “And Avraham gave tokhachah to Avimelekh” (Bereishis 21:25). The verse is saying do not hate your brother in your heart when he did something to you that isn’t what you wanted. Rather give him tokhachah, “Why did you do like this to me?” [The verse continues, “and do not carry for him the sin” of hiding hatred for him in your heart without talking to him. For through such tokhachah you may get him to apologize to you or do teshuvah and confess his sin and we will be atoned. After that [continuing with the theme of the following verses], be careful not to takes revenge or hold a grudge in your heart over what he did to you. Because it is possible that he doesn’t hate him, but remembers the trespass in his heart. Therefore he is warned to erase his brother’s wrongdoing and sin from his heart, and finally he is commanded to love him as himself.

The Ramban’s first interpretation is that the verse has two distinct mitzvos:

(1) Do not hate another Jew in your heart. Why in your heart? Simply because that’s the most common way to hate, to let it simmer internally. Along these lines Rav Achai Gaon (She’ilta 27) explains this clause as though it said “do not hate your brother even in your heart”, and all the moreso do not express hatred. In contrast, the Rambam (Lo Sa’asei #302) says this sin is only hatred in one’s heart. Expressed hatred would violate other prohibitions, such as “do not take revenge” or “do not hold a grudge” or “do not strike”, or the like.

(2) Rebuke your neighbor, because otherwise you will share the guilt for his sin. You could have corrected him, you didn’t, so it’s partly your fault too. In this interpretation, “tokhachah” is taken the way it’s normally translated — rebuke.

The Ramban calls the second interpretation “correct in my eyes” and is the roughly the position of the Rashbam, the Ibn Ezra and the Chizquni (all on this verse). The pasuq is describing what is basically one mitzvah. Don’t hate another Jew, letting it simmer in your heart. Instead, talk it out with the person. Air your grievances. As the Ibn Ezra and Chizquni note, it could resolve what was a simple misunderstanding. Maybe, as the Ramban suggests, he will apologize and confess. But communication can end a fight and hatred, so we are obligated to communicate. This is a very different translation for the word “tokhachah“.

And yet regardless of how we explain the pasuq the mitzvah of tokhachah does indeed involve correcting someone else’s sins that aren’t against me. Such as warning others against Shabbos violations or harming a third party. But this too may derive from the notion of healing rifts:

מנין לרואה בחבירו דבר מגונה שחייב להוכיחו שנאמר (ויקרא יט, יז) הוכח תוכיח

From where is it that someone who sees something reprehensible in his friend, that he is obligated to give him tokhachah? For it says: “you shall surely give tokhachah“.

Helping someone else do what’s right is obvious of value, but that’s not the focus the pasuq is giving the mitzvah. (Also, giving tokhakhah in such cases is complicated, and is only permissible when there is a likelihood that the person or in some cases a spectator will actually change. It is prohibited to give tokhachah when the likely outcome is only more enmity, or that the person continues sinning, but now does so consciously rather than through ignorance. Consult your rabbi for many more details, as erring in either direction is a sin.)

Tokhachah is appropriate when someone is doing something that makes them look bad to you. Whether it’s a personal affront, or they do something to another or in their relationship to the Almighty that threatens to alienate them.

I snuck something in toward the beginning of this post. “Sin’as chinam“, most literally “free hatred”, is usually taken to mean “baseless hatred” (taking “free” to mean that nothing was “paid” to cause it). Knowing where the post was going, I instead translated it “pointless hatred”. Even if the hatred in one’s heart has a real cause, to refrain from trying to heal the rift would make the hatred pointless.

Which brings us back to our opening gemara, “Yerushalayim was only destroyed because they didn’t give tokhachah to one another.” It would seem that this period should be considered “Clear the Air Week.” (Or Three Weeks, had I been writing back then.) A time to call someone I had a disagreement with, talk out our differences and eliminate the sin’as chinam from my heart.

With berakhos for an easy fast,


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