Rebuking a brother

Rebuking a brother FFOZ



Every community has disputes, but there are good ways and bad ways to resolve them. Yeshua teaches us the good way.


Yeshua compared the nation of Israel to a flock of sheep under the care of a shepherd. He compared the sinners of His generation—Jewish people who had wandered from God and away from His Torah—to lost sheep separated from the flock. He compared Himself to a good shepherd who seeks after the lost sheep and returns them to the flock. Just as Yeshua sought after the lost sheep of Israel, i.e., the sinners among the Jewish people, He told His disciples to also retrieve such wandering sheep by correcting and confronting sin. He said, “Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him” (Luke 17:3). Rabbi Yeshua derived that policy from the Torah: “You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you [shall] surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him” (Leviticus 19:17). Like the sages, Yeshua considered Leviticus 19:17 as a responsibility incumbent upon everyone. A man who knows that his brother is engaged in willful sin but does not attempt to dissuade him from it becomes partly responsible for the sin and a party to his guilt. One who turns another away from sin acquires his brother, i.e., he attains the merit of saving his brother’s life by bringing him to repentance. The sages discussed this unpleasant obligation of rebuking one’s neighbor at length. They noticed that the Torah repeats the Hebrew verb “you shall surely rebuke” for emphasis. They proposed several explanations for the repetition. One rabbi explained the doubled verb to mean, “If he rebuked him and he did not accept it, he must rebuke him again.” Another rabbi suggested that the doubled verb meant that a man needed to rebuke his neighbor twice to discharge the obligation. Raba replied, “Even one hundred times, if necessary,” and he interpreted the repetition to mean that the responsibility applied under any circumstance.

Raba even deemed this responsibility incumbent on a disciple who saw his master in sin. On the other hand, the Talmud says that a second rebuke was not necessary if the sinner appeared ashamed after the first rebuke. The founder of Chasidic Judaism, the Baal Shem Tov, interpreted the repetition of the Hebrew verb to imply that before rebuking one’s neighbor, a person should rebuke himself or herself first. Before you begin rebuking sinners, notice that the commandment pertains to those already within the community of Israel: “your fellow countryman.” Likewise, Yeshua’s directive to reprove a sinner applies only to those within the community of His disciples. The obligation to rebuke a sinner makes no sense outside of a community that has agreed on a common definition of morality. The Apostle Paul clarifies that the commandment does not apply to “the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters … for what have I to do with judging outsiders?” (1 Corinthians 5:10-12). When people with religious convictions and moral values based upon their own religion’s norms attempt to force those convictions and values upon people outside of their religious community, it incites hostility and a bitter reaction—especially in a free society. It’s inappropriate and a violation of the Master’s rule, “Treat people the same way you want them to treat you” (Matthew 7:12). For example, most Western Christians living in the United States of America would resent a Muslim neighbor rebuking them for some infraction of Sharia law. If we would not want to be treated that way by someone from another religion, we should not treat others that way when they do not share our religious values. Even when offering a rebuke to a brother or sister within the community of Yeshua’s disciples, the matter is tricky, and a rebuke is not likely to be heeded, no matter how well-intentioned. The Talmud wisely mitigates the impossible responsibility of continually rebuking all sinners by juxtaposing Leviticus 19:17 with Proverbs 9:8 as follows:

Rabbi Ilea stated in the name of Rabbi Eleazar son of Rabbi Shim’on, “Just as a man is obligated to rebuke a sinner who will heed him, Scripture commands him not to rebuke a sinner who will not heed him.” Rabbi Abba stated, “In that case, it is a duty not to rebuke a sinner who will not heed, as it says [in Proverbs 9:8], ‘Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you. Reprove a wise man and he will love you.’” (Talmud)

According to this interpretation, you should offer a rebuke to a sinner only if you have reason to believe that your words will be heeded. In other words, the obligation to rebuke a sinner applies not just within the confines of the community of faith but also within the confines of a personal relationship within that community that is based upon mutual respect.

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