Vayeshev: You should have stopped me!

When I’m driving with my wife, I express annoyance when she tells me where to turn.  But what annoys me even more is her remaining quiet, as a result of my first complaint, when I make a wrong turn!  

This is similar to a story told by the great Jewish ethicist, the Chofetz Chayim (Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, 1839-1933).  A man was arrested for doing something illegal, and asked the police to take him to his Rabbi before placing him in jail.  Upon confronting his Rabbi, the arrested man censured him, “Why did you let me do those things? Why didn’t you warn me that eventually I would be caught?” 

In this week’s Torah portion, Joseph’s brothers sell him into captivity.  They intend to kill him, but their leader, Judah, persuades them to merely sell him.  The Torah then states, somewhat cryptically, “And it came to pass at that time that Yehuda went down from his brothers.” (Genesis 38:1).  Rashi explains that when the brothers saw how their father Jacob grieved over the news that Joseph was (supposedly) dead, they “demoted” Judah as their leader.  They blamed their father’s grief on Judah, claiming, “You said to sell him.  Had you said to return him, we would have listed to you.” 

We often fail to rebuke others for their misconduct for fear of alienating them and/or because we feel it’s “none of our business” (which might really mean that we want others to “mind their own business” and not rebuke us when we are doing wrong).  But our sages recognized that we have a tendency to blame others for our improprieties -- including blaming them for not “stopping us.”  

The ethical lesson they derived is that if we refrain from legitimately rebuking others, they will eventually be angry at us for it.  It’s best to rebuke when the situation calls for it (albeit privately and emphasizing that we do so in the violator’s best interest).  Doing so offers the best opportunity for preventing impropriety – and blame for others' misdeeds.  

Shabbat Shalom!

Reference: Zelig Pliskin, Love Your Neighbor, 110-111. 



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A bird that you set free may be caught again, but a word that escapes your lips will not return.
Jewish Proverb