This week’s Torah portion, Parshat Kedoshim, deals with directions for all areas of life. Mainly, though, it addresses relationships between people. One of the instructions we find in the parsha reveals an interesting perspective on relationships that go awry. This practical instruction is as follows: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart.
You shall surely rebuke your fellow, but you shall not bear a sin on his account. You shall neither take revenge from nor bear a grudge against the members of your people; you shall love your neighbor as yourself …” (Leviticus 19, 17-18) The last verse – You shall love your neighbor as yourself – is very well-known. Rabbi Akiva, the greatest of the sages, called it “a great rule of the Torah.” But when we examine the verses that precede it, we discover that the Torah makes this rule the end product of a process that begins in a more unpleasant manner.
Whoever hates a [fellow] Jew transgresses a Torah prohibition: “‘Do not hate your brother in your heart…’ When one person wrongs another, the latter should not remain silent and despise him… Rather, he is commanded to make the matter known and ask him: ‘Why did you do this to me?’ ‘Why did you wrong me regarding that matter?’ as it states: ‘You shall surely admonish your colleague.’ At first, a person who admonishes a colleague should not speak to him harshly until he becomes embarrassed as it states: ‘[You should]... not bear a sin because of him.’ This is what our sages said: ‘Should you rebuke him to the point that his face changes [color]?’ The Torah states: ‘[You should]... not bear a sin because of him.’” (Hilchot Deot, Chapter 6, halachot 5, 6, 8) A person who takes revenge against a colleague transgresses a Torah prohibition, as it states: “Do not take revenge.” Similarly, anyone who holds a grudge against another Jew violates a Torah prohibition, as it states: “Do not bear a grudge against the children of your people.”
This is a proper quality that permits a stable environment, trade and commerce to be established among people. (Hilchot Deot, Ch 7, halachot 7-8) In the Rambam’s words based on the verses above, we read about a very exact way of resolving disputes. The case before us deals with a man who harmed his friend, insulted him, teased him and perhaps even hurt him more harshly. Perhaps we would expect the Torah to guide the person to forget his friend’s deeds and forgive him, but we discover the opposite. The hurt party must turn to the one who harmed him and raise the subject, inform him that he expects compensation or at the very least an apology, and thus fulfill the commandment of “You shall surely rebuke your fellow.” If he does not act in this manner, the hatred in our hearts will not disappear.
It will grow deeper, causing greater future damage to us and to others. Thus says the Torah: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart.”
But we must remember: If we attack with harsh words, the dispute will only get worse, as it says: “You should not bear a sin because of him,” because by attacking, we will cause the other to hurt us again. We must turn to him pleasantly, so that he does not feel threatened but will believe we desire peace. Only in this way is there a change that the dispute between us will be resolved.
The next stage is when the friend or partner understands that he behaved wrongly and asks for forgiveness. At this stage, we are expected to believe he is sincere, accept what he says and forgive him. Man has a strong tendency to take revenge, or at least bear a grudge remembering the negative. Here, the Torah warns us – “You shall neither take revenge from nor bear a grudge.” If the other person understands the severity of his deeds, we must turn a new page and forgive him wholeheartedly. Everyone errs on occasion, and when someone understands the error of his ways, we must be forgiving as we would expect others to be about our mistakes.
If we act this way, we will fulfill the great rule and the yearned-for goal of “Love your neighbor as yourself.” As the Rambam states, “This is a proper quality which permits a stable environment, trade and commerce to be established among people.”
The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and holy sites.