Human Relationship Mitzvot
By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim
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. (Leviticus 19:17)
Maimonides understands this verse to contain three separate commandments: 1) the command not to hate one’s brother in one’s heart, 2) the command to rebuke someone who is transgressing Torah law, and 3) the command not to embarrass a person. The natural connection between these three commandments is brought to light by Maimonides in his epic work Mishneh Torah.
“When one person wrongs another, the latter should not remain silent and despise him as Samuel 2:13,22 states concerning the wicked: ‘And Avshalom did not speak to Amnon neither good, nor bad for Avshalom hated Amnon.’
“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 (Leviticus 19:17) states: ‘You shall surely admonish your colleague.’
If, afterwards, the person who committed the wrong asks his colleague to forgive him, he must do so. A person should not be cruel when forgiving as implied by (Genesis 20:17) ‘And Abraham prayed to God…’”
Thus, the connection between not hating another and rebuking another is apparent. When one feels resentful about being wronged by another, holding on to that resentment without dealing with it is forbidden. One is obligated to approach the person and deal with the issue. In the best-case scenario, one of the parties will either realize that he/she has been mistaken in interpreting the other’s actions or admit his/her negative behavior and ask for forgiveness. Worst-case scenario, the perpetrator will not admit fault and remain unrepentant. Although this is a difficult scenario to deal with emotionally, one has at least met one’s Torah obligation to express one’s feelings in an attempt to remove resentment from one’s heart.
Having said this, when one approaches another with words of rebuke, one should do so in a way that does not unnecessarily embarrass the person and that encourages the person to see his/her mistakes (so that the relationship can be repaired). This is why the Torah states that “You shall surely rebuke your fellow, but you shall not bear a sin on his account.”
May we all have the courage to deal with our relationship challenges, to own and admit our own mistakes, and to forgive others when they sincerely request that we do so.