Of Kings And Scholars
‘He Forgave The Honor Due Him’
The Gemara (22b) states that King Saul was punished and dethroned (with none of his descendants succeeding him) because he was too humble and did not react to those who humiliated him. The Maharsha cites a Gemara (Kiddushin 32b) which states that a king has no right to forgo his honor because the dishonor of a Jewish king is akin to the dishonor of Hashem. Therefore, Saul’s crown was taken from him.
The Torah’s Representative
The Gemara (23a) notes that a talmid chacham must also protect his honor because an insult directed at a Torah scholar is akin to an insult of the Torah that he represents. The Gemara explains that even though it is praiseworthy for a Torah scholar to forgo his honor, that is only the case if the person who wronged him seeks forgiveness and attempts to appease him. (The Gemara says that a Torah scholar should not actively pursue and exact revenge, but neither should he entirely forget and forgive [unless forgiveness is sought] because he must uphold the Torah’s honor.)
The Sefas Emes (Yoma ad loc.) wonders how to reconcile this Gemara with the famous story of Hillel’s humility and patience. The Gemara (Shabbos 31a) relates that a man tried to anger Hillel but failed. It is apparent from that incident that it is praiseworthy for a Torah scholar to ignore insults directed at him and to forgive (even before being appeased).
Two Gemaras, Two Views
The Sefas Emes answers that the Gemara (in Kiddushin 32a) cites a dispute as to whether or not a Torah scholar may forgo his honor. He suggests that our Gemara follows the opinion that a Torah scholar, like a king, may not, whereas the Gemara in Shabbos follows the opinion that he may. Therefore, the Gemara in Shabbos assumes that it is praiseworthy to forgive and forget, even without being asked for forgiveness.
In Conflict With The Rambam
The Sefas Emes does not seem to be in accord with the Rambam, who rules (Hilchos Talmud Torah 7:13) that a Torah scholar is duty-bound to protect his own honor.
However, the Rambam (7:13) distinguishes between an indignity that occurred in public and one that was committed in private. If a Torah scholar was insulted in private, he should forgive and forget. Our Gemara which states that a Torah scholar should protect his honor refers to a situation in which he was insulted publicly. In such a case, he is obligated to uphold the honor of the Torah which he embodies.
On the other hand, the Rivash (cited by the Kesef Mishneh, 7:13) draws a distinction between a lack of proper honor and outright indignity. He asserts that the Gemara in Kiddushin permits a Torah scholar to, for example, excuse people from their obligation to rise in his presence. He may not, however, allow people to humiliate him.
The Ritva (on the Gemara in Yoma) differentiates between ordinary matters and spiritual matters. If the insults are related to personal matters, a talmid chacham is urged to forgive and forget. However, if the insults are related to spiritual matters, then outright forgiveness is deemed misplaced humility.
About the Author: RABBI YAAKOV KLASS, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at email@example.com. RABBI GERSHON TANNENBAUM, rav of Congregation Bnai Israel of Linden Heights, Boro Park, Brooklyn, is the Director of Igud HaRabbanim – The Rabbinical Alliance of America.
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