Of Kings And Scholars
‘He Forgave the Honor Due Him’
The Gemara states that King Saul was punished and dethroned because he was too humble and didn’t react to those who humiliated him. A king has no right to forgo his honor because a Jewish king’s dishonor is akin to Hashem’s dishonor.
The Gemara also states that a talmid chacham must protect his honor because an insult directed at a Torah scholar is akin to an insult directed at the Torah, which he represents. The Gemara adds that if the wrongdoer seeks forgiveness and attempts to appease the Torah scholar, it’s praiseworthy for the Torah scholar to forgive him.
The Sefas Emes (Yoma ad loc.) wonders how to reconcile this statement about not overlooking a slight to one’s honor with the famous story about Hillel’s humility and patience. The Gemara (Shabbos 31a) relates that a man tried to anger Hillel repeatedly but failed, which presumably is supposed to teach us that it’s praiseworthy for a Torah scholar to ignore insults directed at him and to forgive even before he’s appeased.
Two Gemaras, Two Views
The Sefas Emes answers by pointing out that the Gemara (Kiddushin 32a) cites a dispute about whether a Torah scholar is entitled to forgo his honor. He suggests that our sugya follows the opinion that a Torah scholar, like a king, is not entitled to forgo his honor whereas the sugya in Tractate Shabbos (which relates the story of Hillel) is of the opinion that a Torah scholar is entitled to forgo his honor. That’s why that sugya assumes that it’s praiseworthy to forgive and forget even without being asked for forgiveness.
The Rambam (Hilchos Talmud Torah 7:13) distinguishes between public and private indignities. If a Torah scholar is insulted in private, he should forgive and forget. But if he’s insulted publicly, he must uphold the honor of the Torah which he embodies.
The Rivash (cited by the Kesef Mishneh [7:13]) distinguishes between a lack in honor and an outright indignity. He asserts that the Gemara permits a Torah scholar to forgo his honor – for example, he can excuse people from their obligation to rise in his presence – but he may not allow people to humiliate him.
The Ritva (in his commentary on Yoma) differentiates between ordinary matters and spiritual matters. If the insults are related to ordinary matters, the talmid chacham is urged to forgive and forget. However, if the insults are related to spiritual matters, he may not just forgive and forget. Indeed, to do so is considered misplaced humility.