Today is September 21, 2017 -

Bemidbar 5769

Parshat Bemidbar
Shabbat Machar Hodesh
(1 Samuel 20:18-42)
May 23, 2009
29 Iyar 5769

A number of years back (Bemidbar 5763), I discussed the rabbinic use of the story of Jonathan\’s confrontation with his father, King Saul, over David\’s absence from the Rosh Hodesh banquet of the king. According to the plain {pshat) meaning of the story, Jonathan\’s intent was to test the scope of Saul\’s animosity toward David. The sages, however, saw in Saul\’s response to Jonathan\’s entreaties a paradigm to measure to what extent a person has an obligation to admonish another person over a wrongdoing. The obligation to admonish another person for wrongdoing is found in the Torah: \”Reprove your kinsman but incur no guilt because of him.\” (Lev. 19:17) In this discussion, I hope to take the debate a step further.

The Talmud asks the question: \”To what extent should one reprove?\” Namely, what are the limits of anger you should cause in the other person when you go to reprove them? The Talmud cites Saul\’s reaction to Jonathan in this regard: \”Saul flew into a rage against Jonathan. \’You son of a perverse, rebellious woman!\’… At that, Saul threw his spear at him to strike him down.\” (30-1) This reaction prompted three different opinions on this subject in the Talmud: \”Rav said: \’Until he [the reprover] be beaten.\’ Samuel said: \’Until he be cursed.\’ Rabbi Johanan said: \’Until he be rebuked.\’\” Another sage, Rav Nahman bar Yitzhak, correlates these opinions to Saul\’s three different responses to Jonathan. (See Arachin 16b)

What one notes from this passage is the emphasis the sages of the Talmud put on carrying out this thankless commandment. This prescription is seemingly contradicted by another passage from the Talmud: \”And Rabbi Illa said in the name of Rabbi Elazar son of Rabbi Shimon: \’Just as it is a commandment incumbent upon a person to say word [of rebuke to a person who will accept them], so, too, it is a commandment incumbent upon a person not to say words [of rebuke] that will not be heard.\’\” (Yevamot 65b)

Later sages tried to come to some sort of accommodation to alleviate the conflict between these two passages. Rabbi Yosef bar Haviva (Nimukei Yosef on Yevamot) declared that Rabbi Illa\’s opinion dealt with groups while the rulings in Arachin were meant to contend with individuals. An early Ashkenazi work, Sefer Haridim, drew a distinction between mitzvoth bein adam l\’havero (between a man and his fellow) and mitzvoth bein adam laMakom (between man and God). Hagahot Maimoniot, a 14th century Ashkanazi commentary on Maimonides\’ Mishnah Torah distinguished between those who certainly will definitely not listen and those who might listen. Rabbi Yehuda Hehasid (13 th century Germany), in Sefer Hasidim (412; Margoliot ed. P. 396), holds that the Talmud\’s tactics in Arachin refer to family members where there is a special relationship between the parties and any hard feeling will ameliorated by the love between the parties; while in Yevamot, the Talmud deals with cases where there is no special relationship between the parties.

This discussion does not diminish the significance of this commandment. What it makes clear is that for \”reproach\” to be effective, it must always be done with love and sensitivity. Otherwise, it is likely to be counterproductive. Where it will clearly be harmful, sadly, one should desist.

About This Commentary

This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in  Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva.  He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

The United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem offers students of all backgrounds the skills for studying Jewish texts. We are a vibrant, open-minded egalitarian community of committed Jews who learn, practise and grow together. Our goal is to provide students the ability and desire to continue Jewish learning and practice throughout their lives.
Rashei Yeshiva: Rabbi Joel Levy & Dr. Joshua Kulp.
Rabbi Joel Roth, Rosh Yeshiva Emeritus . 

Sponsors – The Conservative Yeshiva would like to thank the following for their generous support of the Haftarah Commentary:

  • Underwriters:  Rabbi Michael and Erica Schwab.
  • Special Friends: Rabbi Ron Androphy, Rabbi Jeffrey and Tami Arnowitz, Rabbi Martin Flax, Rabbi Barry Dov Katz, Rabbi Ben Kramer, Rabbi Vernon Kurtz, Rabbi Robert Pilavin, Rabbi Micah Peltz, Rabbi David Rosen.
  • Friends: Aaron Dworin, Rabbi Robert Eisen, Rabbi Jay Goldstein, Rabbi Rafi Kanter, Rabbi Dennis Linson, Rabbi Mark Mallach, Rabbi Marvin Richardson z”l,  Rabbi Joel Roth, Rabbi Ronald Roth, Rabbi Neil Sandler, Rabbi David C. Seed, Mel F. Seidenberg in honor of his grandchildren and two great grandsons,  Rabbi Ari Sunshine.