Converting to Judaism

The Oys and Joys of Choosing A Jewish Life

Jeremiah’s Got a MEGAPHONE

on March 14, 2014

Every other Wednesday at Hofstra Hillel, we have a learning session on social justice in Judaism led by Micah, a student at the Yeshiva University, Mechon Hadar.

Tonight’s discussion was filled with delicious hamantaschen, lively conversation, and the importance of tochechah: rebuke.

After sharing stories of times when each of us was called out, we focused on Leviticus 19:17, which says “You shall not hate your kinfolk in your heart. Rebuke your kinsman and/but incur no guilt because of him.”

This verse from Leviticus asks us not  to stand by while someone else commits a crime because it is our duty to rebuke him. The Talmud tells us that “Whoever can prevent his household from a sin but does not, is responsible for the sins of his household; if [he can prevent] his fellow citizens, he is responsible for the sins of his fellow citizens; if [he can prevent] the whole world, he is responsible for the sings of the whole world” (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 54b-55a).

This passage filled me with questions. When are we responsible to rebuke other people? How do we know when we can make a difference? Am I doing enough?

We had plenty of ideas. First, “can” implies that the action is only necessary if we know it will result in an impact or change. If we have power, then we are responsible, and the amount of power is equal to the responsibility. One might argue that by being responsible for a single person, we have the power to change the world, since that person can go on to change his entire life and the lives of others. However, I like to see it in levels: take care of your household, if you can, then take care of the community, then move on to the world. Of course, if you are a world leader with the power to influence many, you might influence the world while neglecting to take responsibility of your household.

In reproving our kinsman, we take responsibility for him and his actions. If we truly care about people, we will rebuke them in a gentle, loving, and kind manner, as Maimonides advises in Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Dayot (Ch. 5:7). We do not need to make a public spectacle, but if we approach our kinsmen in the right way, with loving intent, our advice can change their lives and bring them one step closer to paradise.

Towards the end of our discussion, we talked about prophets. And let me tell you, they were masters of giving and receiving rebuke. One minute they’d be advocating repentance; the next, they’d be run out of town for their words. They would stop at nothing to correct the flaws in society because they felt it was their responsibility to do so.

Should we all become prophets then, publicly denouncing the wrong in this world and taking on the responsibility to correct it? If Jeremiah had a megaphone today, what would he say? We all have the power to become prophets, which means we carry on their responsibility. We are responsible for the actions of those we can influence, and if we learn to give and receive rebuke, we begin to lessen the corruption in society.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: