De'ot - Chapter Six
It is natural for a man's character and actions to be influenced by his friends and associates and for him to follow the local norms of behavior. Therefore, he should associate with the righteous and be constantly in the company of the wise, so as to learn from their deeds. Conversely, he should keep away from the wicked who walk in darkness, so as not to learn from their deeds.
This is [implied by] Solomon's statement (Proverbs 13:20): "He who walks with the wise will become wise, while one who associates with fools will suffer." Similarly, [Psalms 1:1] states: "Happy is the man who has not followed the advice of the wicked."
A person who lives in a place where the norms of behavior are evil and the inhabitants do not follow the straight path should move to a place where the people are righteous and follow the ways of the good.
If all the places with which he is familiar and of which he hears reports follow improper paths, as in our times, or if he is unable to move to a place where the patterns of behavior are proper, because of [the presence of] bands of raiding troops, or for health reasons, he should remain alone in seclusion as [Eichah 3:28] states: "Let him sit alone and be silent."
If they are wicked and sinful and do not allow him to reside there unless he mingle with them and follow their evil behavior, he should go out to caves, thickets, and deserts [rather than] follow the paths of sinners as [Jeremiah 9:1] states: "Who will give me a lodging place for wayfarers, in the desert."
It is a positive commandment to cleave unto the wise and their disciples in order to learn from their deeds as [Deuteronomy 10:20] states: "and you will cling to Him."
Our Sages [questioned the nature of this command for] is it possible for man to cling to the Divine Presence? They [resolved the difficulty,] explaining this commandment to mean: Cleave unto the wise and their disciples.
Therefore, one should try to marry the daughter of a Torah Sage and marry his daughter to a Torah Sage, eat and drink with Sages, do business on behalf of Sages, and associate with them in all possible ways as [Deuteronomy 11:22] states: "to cling to Him."
Similarly, our Sages have directed [us], saying: "Sit in the dust of their feet and drink in their words thirstily."
Each man is commanded to love each and every one of Israel as himself as [Leviticus 19:18] states: "Love your neighbor as yourself."
Therefore, one should speak the praises of [others] and show concern for their money just as he is concerned with his own money and seeks his own honor.
Whoever gains honor through the degradation of a colleague does not have a share in the world to come.
Loving a convert who has come to nestle under the wings of the Shechinah [fulfills] two positive commandments: one for he is [also] included among the "neighbors" [whom we are commanded to love] and one because he is a convert and the Torah (Deuteronomy 10:19) states: "and you shall love the converts."
[Thus, God] has commanded us concerning the love of a convert just as He has commanded us concerning loving Himself as [Deuteronomy 11:1] states: "and you shall love God, your Lord." The Holy One, blessed be He, Himself, loves converts as [Deuteronomy 10:18] states: "and He loves converts."
Whoever hates a [fellow] Jew in his heart transgresses a Torah prohibition as [Leviticus 19:17] states: "Do not hate your brother in your heart." One is not [liable for] lashes for violating this prohibition because no deed is involved.
The Torah only warns [us] against hating in [our] hearts. However, a person who beats a colleague or insults him, although he is not permitted to do so, does not violate [the prohibition,] "you shall not hate."
When one person wrongs another, the latter should not remain silent and despise him as [II Samuel 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..."
It is a mitzvah for a person who sees that his fellow Jew has sinned or is following an improper path [to attempt] to correct his behavior and to inform him that he is causing himself a loss by his evil deeds as [Leviticus 19:17] states: "You shall surely admonish your colleague."
A person who rebukes a colleague - whether because of a [wrong committed] against him or because of a matter between his colleague and God - should rebuke him privately. He should speak to him patiently and gently, informing him that he is only making these statements for his colleague's own welfare, to allow him to merit the life of the world to come.
If he accepts [the rebuke], it is good; if not, he should rebuke him a second and third time. Indeed, one is obligated to rebuke a colleague who does wrong until the latter strikes him and tells him: "I will not listen."
Whoever has the possibility of rebuking [sinners] and fails to do so is considered responsible for that sin, for he had the opportunity to rebuke the [sinners].
At first, a person who admonishes a colleague should not speak to him harshly until he becomes embarrassed as [Leviticus 19:17] states: "[You should]... not bear a sin because of him." This is what our Sages said: Should you rebuke him to the point that his face changes [color]? The Torah states: "[You should]... not bear a sin because of him."
From this, [we learn that] it is forbidden for a person to embarrass a [fellow] Jew. How much more so [is it forbidden to embarrass him] in public. Even though a person who embarrasses a colleague is not [liable for] lashes on account of him, it is a great sin. Our Sages said: "A person who embarrasses a colleague in public does not have a share in the world to come."
Therefore, a person should be careful not to embarrass a colleague - whether of great or lesser stature - in public, and not to call him a name which embarrasses him or to relate a matter that brings him shame in his presence.
When does the above apply? In regard to matters between one man and another. However, in regard to spiritual matters, if [a transgressor] does not repent [after being admonished] in private, he may be put to shame in public and his sin may be publicized. He may be subjected to abuse, scorn, and curses until he repents, as was the practice of all the prophets of Israel.
It is pious behavior if a person who was wronged by a colleague would rather not admonish him or mention the matter at all because the person who wronged him was very boorish or because he was mentally disturbed, [provided] he forgives him totally without bearing any feelings of hate or admonishing him. The Torah is concerned only with those who carry feelings of hate.
A person is obligated to show great care for orphans and widows because their spirits are very low and their feelings are depressed. This applies even if they are wealthy. We are commanded to [show this attention] even to a king's widow and his orphans as [implied by Exodus 22:21]: "Do not mistreat any widow or orphan."
How should one deal with them? One should only speak to them gently and treat them only with honor. One should not cause pain to their persons with [overbearing] work or aggravate their feelings with harsh words and [one should] show more consideration for their financial interests than for one's own. Anyone who vexes or angers them, hurts their feelings, oppresses them, or causes them financial loss transgresses this prohibition. Surely this applies if one beats them or curses them.
Even though [a person who violates] this prohibition is not [liable for] lashes, the retribution one suffers for its [violation] is explicitly stated in the Torah (ibid. 22:23): "I will display My anger and slay you with the sword." There is a covenant between them and He who spoke and created the world that whenever they cry out because they have been wronged, they will be answered as [ibid.:22] states: "When they cry out to Me, I will surely hear their cry."
When does the above apply? When one causes them suffering for one's own purposes. However, it is permitted for a teacher to cause them suffering while teaching them Torah, or a craft, or in order to train them in proper behavior. Nevertheless, he should not treat them in the same manner as he treats others, but rather make a distinction with regard to them and treat them with gentility, great mercy, and honor for [Proverbs 22:22] states: "For God will take up their cause."
This applies to both those orphaned from their father and those orphaned from their mother. Until when are they considered orphans in the context [of this mitzvah]? Until they no longer need a mature individual to support, instruct, and care for them and are able to see to all their own needs by themselves, like other adults.
De'ot - Chapter Seven
A person who collects gossip about a colleague violates a prohibition as [Leviticus 19:16] states: "Do not go around gossiping among your people."
Even though this transgression is not punished by lashes, it is a severe sin and can cause the death of many Jews. Therefore, [the warning]: "Do not stand still over your neighbor's blood" is placed next to it in the Torah [ibid.]. See what happened [because of] Doeg, the Edomite.
Who is a gossiper? One who collects information and [then] goes from person to person, saying: "This is what so and so said;" "This is what I heard about so and so." Even if the statements are true, they bring about the destruction of the world.
There is a much more serious sin than [gossip], which is also included in this prohibition: lashon horah, i.e., relating deprecating facts about a colleague, even if they are true.
[Lashon horah does not refer to the invention of lies;] that is referred to as defamation of character. Rather, one who speaks lashon horah is someone who sits and relates: "This is what so and so has done;" "His parents were such and such;" "This is what I have heard about him," telling uncomplimentary things. Concerning this [transgression], the verse [Psalms 12:4] states: "May God cut off all guileful lips, the tongues which speak proud things..."
Our Sages said: "There are three sins for which retribution is exacted from a person in this world and, [for which] he is [nonetheless,] denied a portion in the world to come: idol worship, forbidden sexual relations, and murder. Lashon horah is equivalent to all of them."
Our Sages also said: "Anyone who speaks lashon horah is like one who denies God as [implied by Psalms 12:5]: 'Those who said: With our tongues we will prevail; our lips are our own. Who is Lord over us?’”
In addition, they said: "Lashon horah kills three [people], the one who speaks it, the one who listens to it, and the one about whom it is spoken. The one who listens to it [suffers] more than the one who speaks it.”
There are certain matters which are considered "the dust of lashon horah." What is implied? [For example, a person says:] "Who will tell so and so to continue acting as he does now," or "Do not talk about so and so; I do not want to say what happened," or the like.
Similarly, it is also considered the "dust of lashon horah" when someone speaks favorably about a colleague in the presence of his enemies, for this will surely prompt them to speak disparagingly about him. In this regard, King Solomon said [Proverbs 27:14]: "One who greets his colleague early in the morning, in a loud voice, curses him," for his positive [act] will bring him negative [repercussions].
Similarly, [to be condemned is] a person who relates lashon horah in frivolity and jest, as if he were not speaking with hatred. This was also mentioned by Solomon in his wisdom [Proverbs 26:18-19]: "As a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death and says: 'I am only joking.’”
[Also, to be condemned is] someone who speaks lashon horah about a colleague slyly, pretending to be innocently telling a story without knowing that it is harmful. When he is reproved, he excuses himself by saying: "I did not know that the story was harmful or that so and so was involved."
[There is no difference] whether one speaks lashon horah about a person in his presence or behind his back. [The statements] of people who relate matters which, when passed from one person to another, will cause harm to a man's person or to his property or will even [merely] annoy him or frighten him are considered as lashon horah.
If such statements were made in the presence of three people, [one may assume that the matter] has already become public knowledge. Thus, if one of the three relates the matter a second time, it is not considered lashon horah, provided his intention was not to spread the matter further and publicize it.
All the above are people who speak lashon horah in whose neighborhood, one is forbidden to dwell. How much more so [is it forbidden] to sit [together] with them and hear their conversation.
The judgement against our ancestors in the desert was only sealed because of lashon horah.
A person who takes revenge against a colleague transgresses a Torah prohibition, as [Leviticus 19:18] states: "Do not take revenge."
Even though [revenge] is not punished by lashes, it is a very bad trait. Instead, a person should [train himself] to rise above his feelings about all worldly things, for men of understanding consider all these things as vanity and emptiness which are not worth seeking revenge for.
What is meant by taking revenge? A person's colleague asks him, "Lend me your hatchet. He responds, "I refuse to lend it to you." On the following day, the person [who refused] needs to borrow a hatchet from his colleague. He asks him: "Lend me your hatchet." The latter responds, "Just as you did not lend it to me, I will not lend it to you." This is considered as taking revenge. Instead, when he comes to ask him for it, he should give it to him with a full heart, without repaying him for what he did.
The same applies in other similar instances. Thus, King David proclaimed regarding his exemplary qualities [Psalms 7:5]: "Have I repaid those who have done evil to me? Behold, I have rescued those who hated me without cause."
Similarly, anyone who holds a grudge against another Jew violates a Torah prohibition, as [Leviticus 19:18] states: "Do not bear a grudge against the children of your people."
What is meant by bearing a grudge? Reuven asked Shimon, "Rent this house to me," or "lend this ox to me," and Shimon was not willing [to do so]. A few days later, Shimon came to borrow or rent something from from him. Reuven told him, "Here, it is. I am lending it to you. I am not like you, nor am I paying you back for what you did."
A person who acts in this manner violates the prohibition against bearing a grudge. Instead [of doing so], he should wipe the matter from his heart and never bring it to mind. As long as he brings the matter to mind and remembers it, there is the possibility that he will seek revenge. Therefore, the Torah condemned holding a grudge, [requiring] one to wipe the wrong from his heart entirely, without remembering it at all.
This is a proper quality which permits a stable environment, trade, and commerce to be established among people.
Talmud Torah - Chapter One
HILCHOT TALMUD TORAH
The Laws of Torah Study
[This text describes] two positive commandments. They are:
a) to study Torah;
b) to honor those who study it and know it.
These mitzvot are explained in the following chapters.
Women, slaves, and minors are free from the obligation of Torah study. Nevertheless, a father is obligated to teach his son Torah while he is a minor, as [Deuteronomy 11:19] states: "And you shall teach them to your sons to speak about them."
A woman is not obligated to teach her son, for only those who are obligated to learn are obligated to teach.
Just as a person is obligated to teach his son, so, too, is he obligated to teach his grandson, as [Deuteronomy 4:9] commands: "And you shall teach them to your sons and your grandsons."
[Furthermore, this charge is not confined] to one's children and grandchildren alone. Rather, it is a mitzvah for each and every wise man to teach all students, even though they are not his children, as [Deuteronomy 6:7] states: "And you shall teach them to your sons..." The oral tradition explains: "Your sons," these are your students, for students are also called sons, as [II Kings 2:3] states: "And the sons of the prophets went forth."
If so, why do the commandments [explicitly mention] one's son and grandson? To grant precedence to one's son over one's grandson, and one's grandson over the son of a colleague.
Also, one is obligated to hire a teacher for one's son, while one is not required to undertake any expense to teach a colleague's son.
A person who was not instructed by his father is obligated to arrange for his own instruction when he can understand, as [Deuteronomy 5:1] states: "And you shall study them and take heed to perform them."
Similarly, in every place, one finds that study takes precedence over deed, for study brings about deed. However, deed does not bring about study.
If a person wants to study Torah and he has a son whom he should teach Torah, his [study] takes priority over [that of] his son. If his son is wiser and a more creative thinker and thus capable of understanding what he studies more than he [himself] is, his son is given priority.
Even though his son is granted priority, he should not neglect [his own studies]. For just as he is commanded to teach his son, he is commanded to teach himself.
A person should always study Torah and, afterwards, marry. If he marries first, his mind will not be free for study. However, if his natural inclination overcomes him to the extent that his mind is not free, he should marry, and then study Torah.
At what age is a father obligated to teach [his son] Torah?
When he begins to speak, he should teach him Torah tzivah lanu Moshe... (Deuteronomy 33:4) and Shema Yisrael... (ibid. 6:4).
Afterwards, he should teach him [selected verses], little by little, verse by verse, until he is six or seven - depending on his health - [at which time] he should take him to a teacher of young children.
If it is local custom for a teacher of young children to take payment, he should be paid. [The father] is obligated to pay for his instruction until he can read the entire written Torah.
In a place where it is customary to receive a wage for teaching the written Torah, one is permitted to do so. However, it is forbidden to take a wage for teaching the Oral Law, as [implied by Deuteronomy 4:5]: "Behold, I have taught you laws and statutes, as God commanded me." [Our Sages teach that Moses was implying:] Just as I learned at no cost, so, too, have you been taught from me at no cost. Teach the coming generations in a like manner. Teach them at no cost as you have learned from me."
[Nevertheless,] if a person cannot find someone to teach him at no cost, he must pay for his studies, as [implied by Proverbs 3:23]: "Buy truth." May he charge to teach others? We learn [ibid.]: "but do not sell." Thus, it can be derived that it is forbidden to charge to teach Torah even though one's teacher charged to instruct him.
Every Jewish man is obligated to study Torah, whether he is poor or rich, whether his body is healthy and whole or afflicted by difficulties, whether he is young or an old man whose strength has diminished.
Even if he is a poor man who derives his livelihood from charity and begs from door to door, even if he is a husband and [a father of] children, he must establish a fixed time for Torah study during the day and at night, as [Joshua 1:8] commands: "You shall think about it day and night."
The greater Sages of Israel included wood choppers, water drawers, and blind men. Despite these [difficulties], they were occupied with Torah study day and night and were included among those who transmitted the Torah's teachings from [master] to [student in the chain stretching back to] Moses, our teacher.
Until when is a person obligated to study Torah? Until the day he dies, as [Deuteronomy 4:9] states: "Lest you remove it from your heart, all the days of your life." Whenever a person is not involved with study, he forgets.
A person is obligated to divide his study time in three: one third should be devoted to the Written Law; one third to the Oral Law; and one third to understanding and conceptualizing the ultimate derivation of a concept from its roots, inferring one concept from another and comparing concepts, understanding [the Torah] based on the principles of Biblical exegesis, until one appreciates the essence of those principles and how the prohibitions and the other decisions which one received according to the oral tradition can be derived using them. The latter topic is called Gemara.
How is the above expressed? A person who is a craftsman may spend three hours each day involved in his work, and [devote] nine hours to Torah study: In those nine hours, he should spend three reading the Written Law; three, the Oral Law; and three, meditating with his intellect to derive one concept from another.
The "words of the prophetic tradition" are considered part of the Written Law; and their explanation, part of the Oral Law. The matters referred to as Pardes are considered part of the Gemara.
The above applies in the early stages of a person's study. However, when a person increases his knowledge and does not have the need to read the Written Law, or occupy himself with the Oral Law constantly, he should study the Written Law and the oral tradition at designated times. Thus, he will not forget any aspect of the laws of the Torah. [However,] he should focus his attention on the Gemara alone for his entire life, according to his ambition and his ability to concentrate.
A woman who studies Torah will receive reward. However, that reward will not be [as great] as a man's, since she was not commanded [in this mitzvah]. Whoever performs a deed which he is not commanded to do, does not receive as great a reward as one who performs a mitzvah that he is commanded to do.
Even though she will receive a reward, the Sages commanded that a person should not teach his daughter Torah, because most women cannot concentrate their attention on study, and thus transform the words of Torah into idle matters because of their lack of understanding.
[Thus,] our Sages declared: "Whoever teaches his daughter Torah is like one who teaches her tales and parables." This applies to the Oral Law. [With regard to] the Written Law: at the outset, one should not teach one's daughter. However, if one teaches her, it is not considered as if she was taught idle things.
Published and copyright by Moznaim Publications, all rights reserved.
To purchase this book or the entire series, please click here
The text on this page contains sacred literature. Please do not deface or discard.