Parshas Noach-Likkutei Sichos-How to react when seeing or hearing negativity in another

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Parshas Noach

How to react when seeing or hearing of the evil of another

(Likkutei Sichos Vol. 10 2nd Sicha)

In this week’s Parsha, Parshas Noach, the story of the flood and its aftermath is related. G-d instructed Noach to bring both Kosher and non-Kosher animals into the ark in order to save their species. In the description of the Kosher and non-Kosher animals, the verse[1] does not use the formal Hebrew terms for a non-Kosher animal, which is a Beheima Temeia/impure animal [which is the contrast to a Beheima Tehorah, a pure animal], but rather states “from the pure and from the animal which is not pure.” What is the reason behind this seemingly unnecessary change of wording? What was wrong with using the normal scriptural term of “Impure animal?” The Rebbe brings from the Talmud that this change of wording is coming to teach us a lesson in using refined speech. The Rebbe then connects this lesson to the occurrence that happened at the end of the Parsha in which Noach became drunk and was found by his son Cham, who did nothing to help, and was finally assisted by his other sons Yefes and Shem. In the description of their assistance, Scripture repeats the fact that they did not see their father’s nakedness on more than one occasion. In the search behind the reason for this redundance, the Rebbe engages in a discussion of how one is to react when he witnesses evil within another. Must he help him? Can he judge him? The Rebbe concludes that if his focus is on anything but helping the individual, then what he has seen must serve as a humbling experience for him to recognize his own failures. The lesson of this talk reaches into the core and depth of the wrongness in passing negative judgment on others, and comes to increase true love of a fellow Jew and distances us from hate and discord.

Explorations of the Sicha:

1. Why does the verse avoid using the common term “Beheima Temeia/Impure animal” and rather says “Habeheima Asher Einenah Tehorah/Animals that are not pure?”

2. When is the use of negative terminology justified?

3. Why does the verse repeatedly state that Yefes and Cham did not see their father’s nakedness?

4. How should we react when we witness or recognize evil in another, and what Divine message does it contain? Should we act as moral policeman and judges, or should it humble us to recognize our own personal failures?

5. How can the Baal Shem Tov say that anytime we see a deficiency n another it is a reflection of our own failures? Is it truly not possible for others to contain intrinsic flaws of their own which we do not share?

1. Avoiding negative speech:

Why not just say the word impure? G-d instructed Noach to bring into the ark both Kosher and non-Kosher animals in order to save their species. In the description of the Kosher and non-Kosher animals the verse[2] does not use the formal Hebrew term for a non-Kosher animal, which is a Beheima Temeia, impure animal, versus a Beheima Tehorah, a pure animal, but rather states “from the pure and from the animal that is not pure.” What is the reason behind this seemingly unnecessary change of wording? What was wrong with using the normal scriptural term of “Impure animal?”

The lesson that one is to speak in a refined manner: Our sages in the Talmud[3] answer this question by stating that by using the above term, Scripture was teaching us a lesson that “A person should never express something negative in his mouth, as can be seen from the fact that the verse wrote an extra eight letters just in order to avoid saying the negative word of “impure” animal.[4] The lesson behind this teaching is that one should avoid using language that is negative if he could express the same idea in a positive wording.

Why then is the term impure used in the Torah so many times? A pushback against the above idea can be found in the fact that the Torah itself uses the term “impure” dozens of times. Hence, how can we say that an isolated incident of saying “which is not pure” can negate the word impure which is used so often in Scripture? How can the Torah itself go against its own teaching, and against its own ethical and moral code against using negative words?[5]

The negative terms are simply regulated and not completely negated: The explanation is that the Torah does not completely negate the use of negative words such as “impure,” but rather simply regulates its use to necessary cases. Meaning, that when necessary for the sake of clarity, one may choose, and is even required, to use the term “impure” versus the longer-term of “not pure.” However, when the clarity of the statement will not be compromised by using the term “not pure,” then one must do so in order not to use negative terms unnecessarily. When analyzing the verses in scripture we see that the vast majority of those verses in which the term “impure” is used, the content discussion is of matters relating to Jewish law, in contrast to our verse here which is discussing a mere story and episode. When it comes to the field of Jewish law, the clearest and most explicit language must be used in order to avoid any and all confusion and misunderstanding of the law, and therefore the Torah chooses to use the negative word “impure” for clarity purposes. However, when it comes to relating stories, in which a misunderstanding has minimal consequence, the more obscure but cleaner term of “not pure” is used.

Now, just as we see a lesson in the beginning of the Parsha regarding how careful one is to be in his speech, so too we find a lesson in the end of the Parsha regarding how careful one is to be in his sight, as will now be explained.

2. Shem and Yefes avoided staring at their father’s nakedness:

When it became discovered by Shem and Yefes that their father Noach was lying unclothed in a drunken state, they were very careful to avoid staring at their father’s shame. The verse describes them approaching their father as follows, “and they walked backwards, facing backwards, and did not see their father’s nakedness.” The great act that was undertaken, by them avoiding staring at their father, can be understood from the great reward that they received due to it, as the verse states, “May G-d be with Yefes, and dwell in the tents of Shem.”

Understanding the redundancy of Scripture: What remains to be understood, however, is regarding why the verse felt the need to spell out the fact that they did not see their father’s nakedness, if this is self-understood from the fact that they walked backwards. Likewise, why does the verse need to repeat and say that they were facing backwards if it already said that they walked backwards? It is self-understood that when someone is walking backwards that he is not facing the area that he’s walking to and there is no need to spell this out for the reader. Hence, we must conclude that there must be some novelty that the verse is coming to teach us in this statement, as we will explain.

3. A reflection of one’s own deficiencies become apparent in the deficiencies that one sees in another:

The above can be understood through introducing the following teaching of the Baal Shem Tov:[6] When a person sees a matter of evil in another, this is a proof that a replica of that evil is actually found within him. This is analogous to one who is staring at a mirror. If he has a clean face, then he will likewise see a clean reflection in the mirror, and if his face is dirty, then he will see a dirty reflection in the mirror. What he sees in the mirror is dependent on his own state of cleanliness. The same applies regarding the evil that one sees in another fellow Jew, that it is a mirrored reflection of one’s own evil. Thus, a person who is a complete Tzadik does not see evil in any other man, as he himself is free of any evil or blemishes. [This teaching of the Baal Shem Tov finds basis in the Talmud[7] and Shulchan Aruch[8], which states that a person who habitually throws verbal accusations against other Jews to invalidate their lineage, in truth has invalidated and self-incriminated his own lineage, as one who is of invalid lineage has the habit to make such accusations about others even though it is baseless. In the Talmudic terms, “Kol Haposel Bemumo Posel.”[9] In other words, we learn from here the concept that accusing someone of a blemish can be considered self-incrimination of having that blemish.]

4. Why can’t we accept the idea that another person has a deficiency that I don’t have?

This teaching of the Baal Shem Tov can be rightfully questioned, as why can’t we accept a reality that the individual in which evil is being seen in, truly contains this evil, and the person who sees it has no evil of his own. Why must it be that whenever one sees evil in another that it must be a mirrored reflection of his own failures? Is it not possible for other people to have glaring failings and consciously apparent character flaws and transgress prohibitions, without the witnesses of these failings and flaws and transgressions being guilty of these matters themselves? [When one contemplates the above teaching of the Baal Shem Tov, it truly does not seem to make sense, and defies logic of the entire criminal justice system in which an individual is caught performing evil and is held accountable for it. According to this teaching, it is not the criminal who is guilty but really the person who is seeing it. Since when does a witness to a crime automatically become the perpetrator of the crime? It likewise defies the entire concept of therapy and psychology, in which a therapist and psychologist psychoanalyze an individual and diagnose his character flaws. Must we conclude that every therapist and psychologist who finds a character flaw in his patient is really guilty of it himself? Hence, there must be some misunderstanding in this teaching that requires explanation.]

5. Everything one sees is with Divine providence and contains a Divine message:

The explanation to the above is as follows: Every event that occurs in this world is with Divine providence, and the same applies regarding the evil that one is witnessing in his friend. One’s seeing of evil in his friend is not a matter of mere coincidence and is brought to him by G-d for a specific purpose. We cannot accept that G-d would show him the evil in another person for no reason, and hence certainly him being shown of the evil that the other person contains must also contain a directive towards him, to inform him that he too is guilty of this evil and that he needs to fix it. [In other words, when one sees evil in his friend, the teaching of the Baal Shem Tov does not come to negate the reality that indeed his friend may be guilty of this evil, but simply comes to add that the fact that he is specifically seeing it is a sign from heaven that he too bears some resemblance of this evil within him, and the purpose of this Divine message is for him to recognize this and come to fix it.]

Why the need to see someone else’s evil in order to become aware of one’s own: The reason that G-d needs to show the person how the evil is manifested in another individual for him to recognize his own evil, is because a person’s self-love covers over his negative traits and prevents him from recognizing them, as the Sages[10] state regarding the impure signs of leprosy that “Kol Hanegaim Adam Roeh, Chutz Minigei Atzmo/A person may see all blemishes of leprosy with exception to his own.” Thus, the only way for him to become aware of this evil and recognize it within himself is by him seeing it in another person, which then causes him to contemplate it and find it within his own soul. Accordingly, one can reinterpret the above saying of the sages to mean, “Kol Hanegaim Adam Roeh Chutz, Minigei Atzmo/When a person sees blemishes of another, it is a result of his own blemishes.”

6. The Mitzvah of giving reproof to a fellow Jew-Why can’t that be the Divine message?

The above explanation is not satisfactory, as there in truth exists in alternative reason for why G-d may be showing someone another person’s blemishes, and that is in order so he exert effort to reproof his friend and bring him back to the path of G-d. This is known as the Mitzvah of “Hocheich Tochiach Es Amisecha,” in which we are charged with the responsibility of chastising an individual for his wrongdoing in order to return him to the right path.[11] Accordingly, why must we conclude that when one sees evil in another person that it is a mirrored reflection of his own evil and that the purpose of G-d showing him this is for him to fix that evil that is within him? Perhaps, in truth, the reason for him witnessing the evil is for the sake of him exerting effort to reproof his friend and bring him back to the path of G-d, while he himself is free of any resemblance of this evil within him.

7. How to view the evil in another person-the determining factor of the Divine message:

The explanation to all the above can be drawn from the initial lesson derived from the beginning of the Parsha regarding negative words of speech. There we explained that while the Torah desires that one avoid using negative words, when necessary for the sake of Halachic clarity for practical performance of Jewish law, it is allowed to be used. The same lesson applies here as well. Ideally, a person should not contemplate the evil and deficiencies of another person, and witnessing and contemplating the evil found within another person is only allowed for use in the practical application of helping him mend his behavior, and not for other purposes, such as to judge and characterize him. If a person does make use of this witnessed evil for other purposes, such as the judge and characterize the individual, then it is a sign that it must have a dual message.

The possible dual message in witnessing the iniquity of another: Of course, it is inevitable that on occasion one will witness evil and forbidden behavior, and recognize deficiencies and flaws, within another person’s character, and not always does that mean that the person himself contains those flaws, and that this is G-d’s way of helping him recognize them. In truth, the purpose for why G-d shows an individual the blemishes of another person may simply be to motivate that individual to try to persuade his friend back onto the righteous path. However, it’s also possible that G-d wants the witnessing of this blemish to serve as a dual message, that in addition to motivating him to try to persuade his friend back to the path of righteousness, it is also a Divine message for one to recognize his own evil and come to fix it. Whether the witnessing of one’s friend’s blemishes is meant to serve a single or dual purpose, is dependent on how that person views it. In other words, the way one chooses to think and act upon witnessing the character flaw and prohibited behavior, determines which Divine message is relevant for him.

Being nonjudgmental and only seeing the practical application of the evil: Ideally, when one sees evil within another person, one is not to jump to judge him and characterize him but is rather to think of ways to help guide him back to the correct path. A person who is truly righteous and free of these own blemishes that he is witnessing will naturally mainly be drawn to focus on this practical application of how he can help this individual. However, one who contains similar personal flaws as that which he is witnessing in the other, will naturally be drawn to also judge and characterize him, and contemplate the evil of the individual for no beneficial purpose at all. Meaning, if one’s natural instinct is to immediately stair at the evil of his friend and characterize him as a bad person, rather than focusing on ways of helping him, then this is a Divine message that he is really looking at evil that he contains within himself. If all one sees in the negative aspects of the individual is the fact that he needs to try to help him, then this is a sign that this is the sole reason for why G-d showed this to him. If, however, he sees the negative aspects as intrinsic evil, then it is a sign that he must also help himself, as he too is guilty of association of this evil.

8. Understanding the redundancy in the verse:

Based on all the above, we can now explain the nuances and redundancy in the verse describing how the sons of Noach approached their father. Regarding the son Cham, the verse states that he saw his father’s nakedness, as he indeed contemplated the negative state of his father as an intrinsic deficiency of his father, swerving from what should have been his primary focus to try to help his father cover up his shame. This was because Cham himself was guilty of association of this evil that he had witnessed, at least on a subconscious level. However, regarding the other two sons Yefes and Shem, the verse states that they did not see their father’s nakedness, even after just previously stating that they walked backwards. This idea was repeated in order to emphasize that not only did they not physically see their father’s nakedness, but furthermore that they did not even consciously contemplate this negative state of their father, and simply focused on how to bring it to a closure. The reason for this is because Shem and Yefes were not guilty of holding this deficiency in their own soul, and it was completely negated from them on a personal level.

9. The Divine lesson:

The lesson and directive that each individual should derive from all the above, is in regard to how he should react when seeing the transgressions and character flaws of another, and how to tell whether he too is guilty of association with this evil. Ideally, when one hears or sees a negative matter about another Jew, in addition to the fact it is forbidden for him to gossip about this to another [as Cham gossiped about his father], but furthermore he should not even think and contemplate about this evil that his friend has. The only matter that he should be thinking about is how to help his friend fix his negative trait and how to do so in an inconspicuous manner without making it public knowledge and causing him extra shame. When a person follows this approach, he becomes a receptacle for the Torah which only resides with peace and love of one’s fellow Jew. If he does not follow this approach and takes focus on the actual evil, then it is a sign from heaven that he must work on this issue and rectify it from himself.

 It is not our job to judge and characterize others as bad and evil, but simply to serve as Lamplighter’s to help direct them back to the right path:

It is both common, and natural and instinctive, to immediately judge and characterize an individual the moment one sees or even hears something wrong about him. This especially applies if that individual in question is in some way in competition with you and viewed as a political nemesis. It especially applies in relationships in which jealousy is common, such as family members and friends and acquaintances of which one feels jealousy of their success. It especially applies to people who hold a respectful position such as Rabbis, clergymen, community and political leaders. But it also can apply to random individuals. The lesson that we need to internalize from the above talk of the Rebbe is that it really is not our job to be judging and characterizing others. Only G-d knows the level of challenge and responsibility of guilt that each person has in his struggles and personal demons, and therefore it is only fair for Him to pass this judgment. The focus of man in seeing the negative behavior of another should be on the practical aspects, and not on passing moral judgment over him. Things that one can contemplate include: What leads people to have such negative behaviors? Is there anything I can do to encourage this individual and/or others to better themselves? At the very least, focus on the fact that perhaps you yourself are guilty of equal or similar behavior, and while we cannot change another person’s behavior, we can change ourselves, and hence the viewing of evil in another should be a personal life lesson to motivate us to change.


[1] Noach 7:8

[2] Noach 7:8

[3] Pesachim 3a

[4] See Rashi in Pesachim ibid

[5] See Pesachim 3b where this question is raised, although the answer there is different. See Likkutei Sichos ibid 5-6 with this matter discussed in length

[6] Maor Eiynayim Parshas Chukas; See also Likkutei Torah Behaalosecha 33a; Toldos Yaakov Yosef end of Parshas Teruma; Sefer Hasichos 5700 p. 83

[7] Shmuel Kiddushin 70a

[8] Michaber E.H. 2:2

[9] See Likkutei Sichos Vol. 8 Parshas Pinchas footnote 45 where the Rebbe explicitly connects this statement of Chazal with the statement of the Baal Shem Tov.

[10] Negaim 2:5; See Meiri Avos 1:7

[11] See Bava Metzia 31a

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