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Faigy Peritzman

How crucial it is not to give reproof in public

Wednesday, April 10, 2019


o render decisions regarding the day of uncleanness and the day of cleanness. This is the law of tzaraas.” (Vayikra 14:57)


Imagine this scene. It’s time for doctors’ rounds at the hospital. The head physician scans the patient’s chart as the young residents surround the bed. The physician begins to lecture about the illness, and the residents listen carefully, interrupting occasionally with a question. The patient’s lying there, feeling like a specimen in the zoo, simultaneously invisible but exposed, as his private details are discussed publicly.

According to Tzitz Eliezer, the above scenario is completely forbidden according to halachah, as this group discussion only benefits the hospital’s efficiency, not the patient’s care. (Rav Shalom Meir Wallach, Maayan Hashavua)

Many years ago, I was blessed with one of those quirky conditions unique to pregnancy that appear without cause and refuse to disappear; in this case I had xerostomia — in layman’s terms, dry mouth. Every swallow made me nauseous, and even speaking was difficult. The doctor assured me it would disappear after birth, but meanwhile, it was misery.

The only remedy that helped was chewing gum. So although I was self-conscious about it, I bought stock in gum companies and chewed away.

In certain situations, like at PTA meetings, I’d explain and apologize for any discourtesy, but in general I just tried to be discreet as I worked the wad in my mouth.

In his sefer Ha’amek Davar, the Netziv discusses the above pasuk in Metzora, explaining that a Kohein cannot pasken on tzaraas until he’s spent time learning from his rebbi exactly what each wound looks like. Thus, when the Kohein examined a wound, he’d call all his students to observe how he paskened. 

In light of what we’ve discussed above, why was this permissible?

The Netziv explains that this is the only case where it’s permitted to embarrass a patient this way. Since the man spoke lashon hara, this public embarrassment is an atonement for the embarrassment his words caused.

One day during my pregnancy, I entered a government office to get reimbursed for an overcharged utility bill.

The huge auditorium-style room was lined with cubicles and packed with people. When my turn finally came, I showed the clerk the bill and proceeded to explain the discrepancy.

This clerk had either woken up on the wrong side of the bed or hadn’t had his morning cuppa Joe yet. Instead of checking my paperwork and realizing the error, he simply shoved the paper back and insisted the bill was correct. I patiently repeated my claim. He impatiently denied it. I politely insisted. He impolitely indicated his skepticism as to the state of my sanity.

From here, we see how crucial it is not to give reproof in public. How many times have we wanted to rebuke a student or child on the spot while the action’s fresh in our minds? But there’s no heter to rebuke in public.

The Gemara in Sanhedrin (101b) says, “Why was Yeravam worthy of kingship? Because he gave Shlomo mussar. And why was he punished? Because he gave that mussar in public.”

As this was a large sum, I took a deep breath and once again stated why the bill was incorrect. And then the clerk lost it.

Red in the face, he yelled, “What business do you have telling me this is a mistake? Here you come in, with no respect whatsoever for anyone, chomping on your gum like a cow — chomp, chomp, chomp — and you expect me to take you seriously?”

Time seemed to stop. I felt every face in the room turn and look at my bright red demeanor.

“I’m sorry.” My voice was barely a whisper. “I chew gum for medical reasons.”

To his credit, a look of regret immediately washed over his angry features. “I’m so sorry,” he apologized. “Please forgive me.” He then proceeded, quite efficiently, to take care of my bill and personally escorted me out of the building, again begging me to forgive him.

Which I did. But to this day, I still hear his shout echoing in my head. Chomp, chomp, chomp. And I still feel the shame that shrouded me, wishing the floor would open wide enough to swallow the cow he made me feel I’d become.

Words, which can easily be forgiven, are not so easily forgotten.

To this day, for better or for worse, I’ve developed chiclephobia, or in layman’s terms, I’ve never been able to chew gum again.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 638)

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