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Many sources suggest we rebuke so as not to bear a grudge (lo titor). But the Midrash and several meforshim (discussed here) suggest that the main purpose of rebuke is to keep one's fellow, and oneself by proxy--as one shares responsibility for the sin--from sinning.

Which of these interpretations is correct as it concerns the question of whether we should rebuke someone for doing something that is offensive to us, but not necessarily a sin? For example, asking for very trivial favors or berating us for trivial oversights when we have just told them we are going through something terrible, ch"v. In this case, or similar:

1) May we rebuke them? (There is always some risk of embarrassing the addressee, which I see as a potentially competing halacha in such cases)

2) Must we rebuke them?

3) What is the best way to rebuke them?

Assume we are at risk of bearing a grudge if we do not rebuke.

  • The first question you have to ask is: is the rebuke going to be heard (ie. is it going to accomplish anything)? – Double AA Dec 28 '16 at 23:13
  • @DoubleAA Let's say it would... – SAH Dec 28 '16 at 23:14
  • @DoubleAA Interestingly, the people who would hear a rebuke and change their behavior in response tend to be the same people who would be embarrassed (or at least chagrined) by it, so this seems like lose-lose... – SAH Dec 28 '16 at 23:18
  • ^(potentially a separate question?) – SAH Dec 28 '16 at 23:19
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    @SAH There is a difference between intentionally offending someone, which you should, generally avoid doing vs. saying something to someone and having that person feel offended by what you've said. Also, it is a huge sin to offend someone in public, even if they did something gravely wrong. – DanF Dec 29 '16 at 19:01
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The Rambam in Hilchos Deos Perek 6, Halacha 6 says:

6 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..."

ו כשיחטא איש לאיש לא ישטמנו וישתוק כמו שנאמר ברשעים ולא דבר אבשלום את אמנון מאומה למרע ועד טוב כי שנא אבשלום את אמנון אלא מצוה עליו להודיעו ולומר לו למה עשית לי כך וכך ולמה חטאת לי בדבר פלוני שנאמר הוכח תוכיח את עמיתך ואם חזר ובקש ממנו למחול לו צריך למחול ולא יהא המוחל אכזרי שנאמר ויתפלל אברהם אל האלהים:

Based on this Rambam one should rebuke his/her friend that has done something to him/her that bothers them. The person should not keep it in, but rather share it with the other person.

With regard to your question of how to rebuke them, the Rambam continues and says:

7 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].

ז הרואה חבירו שחטא או שהלך בדרך לא טובה מצוה להחזירו למוטב ולהודיעו שהוא חוטא על עצמו במעשיו הרעים שנאמר הוכח תוכיח את עמיתך המוכיח את חבירו בין בדברים שבינו לבינו בין בדברים שבינו לבין המקום צריך להוכיחו בינו לבין עצמו וידבר לו בנחת ובלשון רכה ויודיעו שאינו אומר לו אלא לטובתו להביאו לחיי העולם הבא אם קיבל ממנו מוטב ואם לאו יוכיחנו פעם שניה ושלישית וכן תמיד חייב אדם להוכיחו עד שיכהו החוטא ויאמר לו איני שומע וכל שאפשר בידו למחות ואינו מוחה הוא נתפש בעון אלו כיון שאפשר לו למחות בהם:

Fundamentally, the one giving rebuke is trying to convey that they are doing it for the benefit of the other person. People are perceptive and will pick up if you are doing it sincerely for their benefit or not.
Ones very tone and word choice should convey this attitude.

I hope this answers some of what you are asking.

  • Thanks for this answer, which adds good information. However, I'm still confused about circumstances in which no sin is involved, just a permissible personal offense. Your Rambam ("whether because of a [wrong committed] against him or because of a matter between his colleague and God ") might seem to address this, but I suspect that his binary is referring only to two types of sin. – SAH Dec 29 '16 at 18:20
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    @SAH I think that you can infer a general rule that this applies to rebuking someone who has caused you personal harm even if it is not a sin, outright. It says that one should not harbor resentment or be silent. We can learn much from Avshalom's incorrect behavior. His is extreme, but not by that much, unfortunately. (Recall, Avshalom had Amnon killed!) – DanF Dec 29 '16 at 21:25
  • @DanF But Amnon sinned, no? – SAH Dec 30 '16 at 15:11
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    @SAH Perhaps to also unify the two types of rebuke I would like to suggest a possibility. As part of the Jewish Nation we are related to one another philosophically and Halachikly. There is a Torah concept of Areivim Zeh Lazeh. This concept has legal implications that relates one Jew to another. Perhaps when a person sins, there is a breach in this covenantal relationship. The person sinning is causing a breach in his relationship to his fellow Jew. Similarly when a person wrongs you it creates a breach in the relationship. Rebuke is designed to restore both of these relationships. – RCW Dec 30 '16 at 20:03
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    @DanF I agree. I was just trying to avoid the issue of when not to rebuke. I was more focusing on the issue of what category of things require rebuke. But I think your point is well taken. Sometimes, however, it may be beneficial for you to share your feelings to the other person that they wronged you. Regardless of whether they will change or not. I think just being able to express your feelings can benefit you, regardless of how the other person responds. Truth be told, if it is something part of the other person's personality, the probability that they will actually change is limited. – RCW Dec 30 '16 at 20:22

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