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Resha’im Are People Too

Halachic Musings

By Rabbi Yair Hoffman

This article may not necessarily earn the writer any fans, but here goes. We often hear how so-and-so is a rasha, an evildoer, and that we should all therefore take actions X, Y, and Z against him. No one disagrees with the idea that one should keep a distance from an evildoer (see Rambam Hilchos Teshuvah 4:5). Many understand the verse in Tehillim (139:29), “Do I not hate them that hate You” to mean that one should fully hate these evildoers.

The issue is particularly germane of late. Why? Many in the Torah community are calling a number of the members of the Knesset “resha’im.” This is on account of a constant barrage of recent legislation aimed at depriving the poorer members of the religious Jewish community of financial benefits. The label of “evildoers” is generating a tangible antipathy toward these MKs.

What follows is not only a different perspective, but a perspective that many of the halachic sources indicate that we should have toward our brethren who have, nebach, become evildoers.

Debate In The Talmud

The verse in Devarim (14:1) states, “Banim atem Lashem Elokaichem—you are [all] sons to Hashem your G‑d.” The Gemara in Kiddushin (36a) cites a debate between Rabbi Yehudah and Rabbi Meir. Rabbi Yehudah says that this verse applies only when we behave properly. Rav Meir understands this verse as applying at all times even when we do not perform the will of Hashem. Rav Meir’s understanding is that this verse applies not only at all times but also to everyone—even resha’im. Furthermore, it seems from the Rashba (Responsa Vol. I #194) that the final halachah is like Rav Meir in this regard, and not like Rabbi Yehudah.

With this in mind, we can now better understand a fascinating Kol Bo (p. 22) in the laws of aveilus. The Kol Bo cites a ruling of the Maharshal on the following case:

A rabbi is faced with two people who are on their deathbeds and both require the rabbi to say Vidui with them. One of them is a righteous man. The other is an infamous evildoer. The Maharshal rules that the rabbi should visit and tend to the needs of the evildoer, “because he certainly needs the penance more.”

Both of the deathly ill patients are Hashem’s sons—even the evil one. Since they are Hashem’s children, and Hashem loves His children even if they do evil, it follows that we should also love them. If Hashem loves them and treats them as sons, shouldn’t we?

The Chofetz Chaim cites Rabbi Yaakov Molin (Ahavas Chessed toward the end of the book, subparagraph 28) that it is a mitzvah to love the resha’im. The Chofetz Chaim explains that when the Gemara discusses hating evildoers, it is referring only to evildoers who remain steadfast in their evil after having received proper rebuke. But nowadays no one knows how to give proper rebuke; therefore, there is still a mitzvah to love them.

The Chofetz Chaim brings proof to this position from a responsum of the Maharam Lublin (Siman 13). This is also the position of the Chazon Ish (Yoreh Deah 2:16, 28; see also Even HaEzer 118:6), who cites the Hagaos Maimanios to the same effect (Deyos chapter 6). The Binyan Tziyon (author of the Aruch haShulchan in a responsum) writes that in our times the entire issue of hating is not applicable because they should all be considered children who do not know otherwise.

Others suggest that the hating described in Tehillim is not a full hate, but rather a more subtle and partial emotion along those lines. They illustrate this understanding by citing other instances in the Talmud where that term is used more subtly.

How To Love

In Sefer Orech L’Chaim (beginning of Parashas Noach) he writes as follows: “I had asked Rav Shmelka Nikolsberg how it is possible to love evildoers. He responded that one must focus on the neshamah that lies within them, as it is a cheilek Eloak mima’al, a portion of the Divine from Above.”

Rav Yisroel Salanter, zt’l, suggested that each individual employ “tachbulos,” mental tricks, in order to fool himself into the proper method of thinking. Tachbulos work differently for different people. My rosh yeshiva, Rav Henoch Leibowitz, zt’l, explained that since tachbulos work so differently, Rav Salanter did not provide sample tachbulos. Nonetheless, there is one that is enormously effective in developing a love for someone who may not have the most redeeming characteristics otherwise.

Let us imagine that we are living in Nazi Germany, chalilah. A Nazi is chasing you with a rifle in hand. If this person that you are having difficulty with were present—would he not try to eliminate the Nazi and save you? He would. If this is the case, is it his fault that we are all not living in Nazi Germany?

By the same token, if you were to get a flat tire in the middle of nowhere, would he not lend you $10 so that your flat can be changed? He would. Is it then his fault that you, in fact, didn’t have a flat tire and didn’t meet up with him?

The Tomer Devorah (1:12) writes that it is proper to have mercy and compassion upon evil people and say, “At the end of it all, he is a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” This too can be used as a tool to help eliminate our hate toward the evildoer.

Other Issues

Rav Moshe Feinstein rules (Igros Moshe CM Vol. I #8) that even if someone is a rasha it is still forbidden to sue him in a gentile court. Certainly it is clear from his writings that it would likewise be forbidden to damage him in other ways. Thus, we should avoid incarcerating him (unless he is a clear and present danger to others), killing him, or defacing or damaging his property.

What about the concept of arvus—that all members of Israel are responsible for one another? Does this apply to evildoers? This happens to be a debate in halachah. The Radbaz (Vol. I #187) and the Avnei Neizer (Y.D. 126) write that there is no arvus to an evildoer. Rav Yitzchok Elchonon Spector (Ein Yitzchok E.H. 1:10) writes that there is arvus to an evildoer.

There is also a mitzvah of correcting one’s fellow man; this is called tochachah. There is a debate as to whether this mitzvah applies to evildoers too. The Mishnah Berurah (O.C. 608 in B.H. “Aval”) indicates that there is no mitzvah. Rav Yosef Teumim, author of the Pri Magadim (Kuntrus Matan Scharan shel Mitzvos III Chakirah 4) holds that there is, as does the author of the Maalos HaMidos (tenth Maalah).


It is clear from the above sources that even in regard to evildoers we need to gain some perspective. Cooler heads must prevail. They are still people and we have to realize that they are still sons of Hashem and have a cheilek Eloak mima’al, a Divine spark from Above. We should also pray for their eyes to open to see the truth. v

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Posted by on June 26, 2014. Filed under In This Week's Edition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

One Response to Resha’im Are People Too

  1. aint it the truth

    July 8, 2014 at 10:25 am

    “They are still people and we have to realize that they are still sons of Hashem and have a cheilek Eloak mima’al, a Divine spark from Above. We should also pray for their eyes to open to see the truth”…

    and a good beating!!!!