When Lashon Hara is a Good Thing
Worship of Molech and Hashem
Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Condemned the Wicked
You shall be holy. (19:2)
The Chofetz Chaim says that this is the difference between a man and an angel: a man is commanded to work on himself to become holy, whereas an angel is created already holy, as we say in Yotzer, “He creates holy ones.” To become holy, the Chofetz Chaim taught his talmidim, one must channel all of his efforts toward the service of Hashem, to increase Hashem’s honor in this world. This is what Dovid Hamelech said in Tehillim (45:2), “My heart stirred with a good thing: I say, my actions are for the King.” An analogy: the merchant who imports and sells to the government makes a lot more money in a shorter time than the merchant who sells to ordinary citizens. Not only that, but he is exempt from paying customs fees and taxes. His train, loaded heavily with merchandise, rolls right past the tax collector’s office, and no one says a word because every car bears a large sign saying, “Government Property.” So too, a person must always say, “I am working for the King!” When you work for the King, you can be sure you will always have what you need, as well as many benefits and exemptions. For example, there are groups of Jews who fear Hashem, who are zealous for the honor of Hashem, and therefore pursue the enemies of the Torah. As they are running, they break things. But since they are pursuing the “rodfim” – those who threaten the Torah – they are exempt from paying for damages, for that is the law of one who pursues a rodef. (Chofetz Chaim Al Hatorah)
Once during an ideological battle, certain Chassidim offended the honor of a certain gadol, and the Chofetz Chaim was asked to step in and defend him. But he declined to do so, explaining: “In the fiery war of the Chassidim against heresy and secularism, it can sometimes happen that an innocent person suffers. I see no danger in this, for we find in the Gemora (Sanhedrin 74a) that if a murderer is chasing his victim and someone comes running after the murderer, and he damages property on the way – whether it is the property of the murderer, the victim, or anyone else – he is exempt from payment. Why should the innocent owner of the property, who is not involved at all in the chase, suffer this loss? The Gemora explains that Chazal made this special exemption because they feared that if people had to worry about paying for damage, they would not want to save the victim from the murderer.” (Dos Leben un Shafn fun Chofetz Chaim, v. 3 p. 790)
Do not go talebearing among your people. (19:16)
Once the Chofetz Chaim was traveling on the train to a gathering, together with Rabbi Z. from Jerusalem. Rabbi Z. had never seen the Chofetz Chaim before, so he did not recognize the old man sitting next to him. During the trip they began to converse, and the Chofetz Chaim began to speak against a certain Mizrachi rabbi. Rabbi Z. interrupted and said, “I saw a sefer in Jerusalem called Chofetz Chaim, and I think that if you would read that sefer you would not say such things.” “I also know about that sefer,” said the Chofetz Chaim, “and if you look there in such-and-such a section and such-and-such a paragraph you will see that sometimes it is permitted and even obligatory to speak.” (Mishkenos Haro’im, p. 477)
Perhaps he was referring to section 4, paragraph 10: “And despite this [that one may not consider a person wicked after seeing him do wrong], if one sees that someone has a bad character trait, such as arrogance or anger or other bad traits, or that he neglects Torah study or the like, it is proper to tell this to his son or his students and to warn them not to be together with him so that they should not learn from his actions.”
And you shall keep all My laws and all My ordinances, so that the land not vomit you out.” (20:22)
At the end of Acharei Mos the Torah says the same thing: “So that the land not vomit you out, when you make it unclean, as it vomited out the nation that was before you.” (18:28) Why does it repeat itself? The answer is, to teach us to be careful not only that we should keep the mitzvos, but that all Jews should keep them, for if not, the land will vomit out everyone. Those who kept the mitzvos will be punished as well, for not protesting against those who did not keep them. (Ohr Hachaim)
The Chofetz Chaim once said, “The Zionists err in thinking that keeping Torah and mitzvos is a side issue, having nothing to do with the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisroel. But the Torah slaps them in the face, saying, “Let the land not vomit you out as it vomited out the nation before you.” This has already come true, and since then we have wandered in exile. Now we say, “Let the land not vomit us out, as it vomited out our forefathers.” (Kol Kisvei Hechofetz Chaim, p. 74)
Avrohom Yaakov Slutzky, an early Zionist and later a co-founder of Mizrachi, published a book in 1891 called Shivas Tzion. In the introduction to his book, he quoted the Haflaah as saying that for a person who lives in Eretz Yisroel, keeping Torah and mitzvos is not as important as it is for one who lives in other lands. Rabbi Yechezkel Halberstam, the Shinnover Rebbe, responded sharply in a letter to another rav who had asked him to join Slutzky's organization: “On the contrary, Hashem is stricter on those who live in Eretz Yisroel, as it says, ‘Let the land not vomit you out…’ For Eretz Yisroel can tolerate only pure individuals…”
As to the Haflaah, his words were misinterpreted. The Gemora (Kesubos 110b) says, “One who lives in Eretz Yisroel is similar to one who has a G-d, and one who lives outside Eretz Yisroel is similar to one who has no G-d.” The Haflaah asks: the word “similar” implies that really the one living in Eretz Yisroel has no G-d, and the one outside Eretz Yisroel has a G-d. If so, it is really better to live outside Eretz Yisroel. But this cannot be – the Gemora there is coming to explain why one should live in Eretz Yisroel! The answer is, he says, that in Eretz Yisroel Hashem gives everything directly, whereas in the rest of the world it is through angels (see Ramban on Vayikra 18:25). Moreover, the blessings flow to the rest of the world through Eretz Yisroel. This is why Shlomo Hamelech said, “And they shall pray to you by way of their land…” (Melachim I 8:48). So one who lives in another part of the world, even if he keeps the Torah and thus has a G-d, is similar to one who has no G-d, because his blessings come through intermediaries. But one who lives in Eretz Yisroel, even if he does not keep the Torah and thus has no G-d, gets his blessings directly from G-d and thus appears to have a G-d. At the same time, it is worse to violate the Torah in Eretz Yisroel than in the rest of the world; the Haflaah’s words never contradicted this fact.
This, explained the Shinnover Rebbe, was true only in the time of the Temple, when most of the Jewish people kept the Torah and they flourished in the land, living on Hashem’s blessings (see Rashi on Shmuel I 26:19). Then even an individual who strayed from the path would appear to have a G-d. But nowadays, there is no blessing in the land, and the few Jews living in Eretz Yisroel need to be supported by the Jews of the rest of the world. (Mishkenos Haro’im, p. 200)
You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and do not bear sin because of him. (19:17)
He who has the opportunity to rebuke a sinner and does not will bear part of the guilt for his sin. This is explained at length in the verses of Yechezkel. G-d commanded the prophet to rebuke the people, and gave him the following guidelines: "If I command you to warn a wicked man to repent, and you do not warn him, and he dies as punishment for his sins, I will blame you for his death. But if you do warn him, even if he does not repent, you have saved your own soul. If you fail to warn a righteous man and he becomes wicked and dies as punishment, I will blame you for his death. But if you do warn the righteous man, and he does not sin, but lives, you have saved your own soul" (Yechezkel 3:17-21; the language is hard and this translation is not exact).
The Minchas Elazar asked: In the second case in which the righteous man accepts the warning and does not sin, why does it say "you have saved your own soul"? The prophet has saved the righteous man as well! He answered that sometimes the righteous man accepts the warning, but he has advisers and followers who do not understand his ways, and they will talk him out of hearkening to the rebuke of the prophet. Although the righteous man is not completely at fault and so is not considered to have sinned, he is not completely innocent either. Therefore it says in this case as well, "You have saved your own soul." (Tikun Olam, Chapter 19)
Shlomo Hamelech writes in the book of Mishlei (28:4), "Those who leave the Torah will praise the wicked man and those who keep the Torah will fight with them." Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev, in his work Ohr Haemes (p. 59), writes that his great teacher, Rabbi Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezeritch, asked two questions on this verse: Those who leave the Torah are wicked, and those who keep the Torah are righteous. So it should have been written simply: "The wicked praise the wicked, and the righteous fight with them." Furthermore, the first half of the verse says "wicked man" in the singular, but the second half says "fight with them" in the plural. Why does it switch from the singular to the plural?
The Maggid explained that there are two kinds of righteous people. There are some righteous people who study Torah and practice kindness, but do not rebuke others who are doing wrong. Although it is a mitzvah in the Torah to do so – "you shall surely rebuke your neighbor" – these people are of such soft and good character that they are incapable of telling another person his faults. There are other righteous people who stand up in public and fight with the evildoers, rebuking and berating them constantly, as it states (Tehillim 139:21), "I quarrel with those who rise up against You." The evildoers hate this second group of righteous people, because they say, "The first group of righteous people are also righteous, and yet they are silent about us, so we must not be so bad. So why do you fight with us?" The second group of righteous people, seeing how the first group has indirectly caused them to be hated, begins to rebuke the first group of righteous people, saying, "Why do you keep silent?"
That is what Shlomo Hamelech meant: "Those who leave the Torah" means the first group of righteous people, who do not rebuke the wicked, but instead try to find redeeming qualities in them. They "praise the wicked." Because of this, "those who keep the Torah," i.e. the second group of righteous people, "fight with them" – with the first group of righteous people.
These words were written by none other than Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev, who is so famous for his prayers in which he argued valiantly in defense of the Jewish people and was able to find something good to say about anyone. Indeed this was how he spoke to G-d, but when speaking to the Jewish people he and other righteous men rebuked the wicked and condemned them in the strongest of terms. (Vayoel Moshe 1:178) (See also Kol Yaakov p. 100)
And you shall not give some of your children to pass through for Molech, so that you not desecrate the name of your G-d; I am Hashem. (18:21)
Chazal (Sanhedrin 64b) derive from here that if someone sacrifices all his children (not just some) to Molech, he is exempt from punishment. What is the logic of this?
The Ramban notes that the Torah calls offering to Molech a desecration of the name of G-d. Furthermore, in Vayikra 20:3 the Torah says, "For he gave some of his children to Molech, in order to defile My Temple and to desecrate My holy name." The meaning, says the Ramban, is that when the nations of the world hear that a Jew sacrificed to Molech and then afterwards went to the Beis Hamikdash and sacrificed to G-d, the name of G-d is desecrated.
Isn't the very act of sacrificing to Molech a desecration of G-d's name? Why does it matter that he also brings offerings in the Beis Hamikdash? The answer is that if someone merely sacrifices to Molech, he is just another one of the millions of idol worshippers in the world. But if he also comes to the Beis Hamikdash, he shows that he fears Hashem and does mitzvos, yet worships Molech as well. That is a true desecration of Hashem's name, because by his conduct he gives the impression that Hashem approves of Molech worship.
For the same reason, Eliyahu Hanavi said (Melachim I 18:21), "Until when will you vacillate between two thoughts? If Hashem is G-d, go after Him, and if the Baal, go after him!" Worshipping only the Baal is preferrable to worshipping both Hashem and the Baal, which will confuse and lead astray other Jews.
Accordingly, we understand why one is only punished if he sacrifices some of his children to Molech. If he gives all his children, he is a plain idol worshipper like so many others in the world. But if he sends some children to Molech and others to the Beis Medrash to learn Torah and serve Hashem, it looks like he is a good and righteous Jew, and people will begin to see Molech worship as an admirable thing.
The Torah continues (20:4), "But if the people of the land hide their eyes from this man, when he gives some of his children to Molech..." Why does the Torah call the Jewish people "the people of the land," a term not used anywhere else?
The Gemara (Bava Kama 52a) gives a metaphorical explanation of how Hashem punishes the Jewish people: "When the shepherd is angry at his flock, he blinds the leader." Rashi explains that there is one goat who knows the way and all the others follow it. When the shepherd is angry at the flock, he puts out the eyes of the leading goat, so that it stumbles into a pit, and all the other goats follow after it. Similarly, when Hashem is angry at the Jewish people, he causes its leaders to be blind.
Rabbeinu Yehonasan, quoted in the Shitah Mekubetzes, explains differently: The shepherd hangs a bell around the neck of a blind goat, making it the leader. All the others follow the sound of its bell, and when it stumbles into a pit, all of them stumble. Similarly, Hashem takes people who are already blind and makes them the leaders of the Jewish people.
Either way, it is the people's fault that the leaders are blind. Accordingly, the translation of our verse would be, "But if the people of the land cause the eyes of the leaders to be hidden from this man..."
Based on this, we can explain an exchange between Yirmiyahu Hanavi and Hashem. Yirmiyahu (14:1-6) received a prophecy about the destruction of Jerusalem. He responded by praying to Hashem on behalf of the people, "If our sins testify against us, Hashem, act for the sake of Your name...do not abandon us." Hashem said, "Do not pray for the good of this people..." Yirmiyahu said, "Alas, my Lord G-d, behold the prophets say to them, 'You will not see a sword, and you will have no famine, for I will give you true peace in this place.'" Hashem said to him, "The prophets speak falsely in My name! I did not send them nor command them nor speak to them."
Why did Yirmiyahu bring up the false prophets? The Radak and Metzudas David explain that he meant to defend the people by placing the blame on the false prophets. Because these prophets are constantly telling them that everything will be fine, the people think that their deeds are pleasing to Hashem, and so they continue in their ways.
If so, what was Hashem's answer, "I did not send them"? Yirmiyahu already knew that; he was defending the people on the grounds that they thought the false prophets to be true. The Metzudas David explains that the people should have realized that the prophets were false because they could not prove their credentials with a sign. The Radak says that even if they could perform a sign, the people should have realized that they were false because they advocated idolatry. The Torah (Devarim 13:2-6) teaches that any prophet advocating idolatry is false, no matter what miracles he performs.
But according to the above, we could explain Hashem's answer more simply. Sometimes Hashem does indeed send false prophets to test the Jewish people. Then, if they fail the test, it can be argued that it was not totally their fault. But in this case, Hashem said, "I did not send them as a test. Rather, the people, because of their sins, deserved that their leaders, the prophets, should lead them in the wrong direction. Therefore they cannot be absolved of blame." (Divrei Yoel, pp. 143-148)