I have an old friend who I care for but found out that she has been speaking about me behind my back! She has disclosed things that are personal in both business and private life, and I don’t know what to do. I can’t reveal my sources to her for fear of breaching boundaries with colleagues, but I am feeling sideswiped by all of this.
There are two questions you must first answer:
Do you want to maintain your friendship with this person at the level it is now? Are you prepared to repair trust by discussing this with her and sharing your hurt? If so then you will have to make sure you are coming from a place of love and not anger!
We learn that words that come from the heart go to the heart; so first you must process your anger and resentment so that when you go to her, you are coming from a clean place so she can hear you without getting defensive. On the other hand, if this person is a perpetual gossip who you believe cannot or is not willing to change and improve herself, you might decide to set up high boundaries around what you share with her in the future. This will naturally diminish the quality of this friendship, and she will ultimately notice this! At that point, she might come to you and ASK why you are no longer ‘close’ to her. It is unlikely that this person is intentionally damaging you; most people who gossip do so not out of malicious intent but from a misguided desire to overshare to make connections with others or because they struggle with the laws of speech on an ongoing basis. This does not absolve them of their behavior, but at least it frames them not as ‘evil’ but rather as ‘flawed’; as we all are! I am going to include here a short essay by Rabbi Jack Abramowitz who describes this mitzvah and its details below. Read this thoroughly and then make your decisions:
If someone is not behaving properly, it is a mitzvah to correct her behavior. We must do so even repeatedly, since the Torah says, “Hochei’ach Tochiach,” which is often translated as “you shall surely rebuke,” but which also means, “you shall repeatedly rebuke.” (See Talmud Baba Metzia 31a.)
Our verse continues, “and you shall not bear a sin because of him.” These words warn us to rebuke others properly. As we will see in the next mitzvah, it is a sin to needlessly shame others, so we are warned to correct others without public embarrassment. (More about this in the next mitzvah).
Failing to rebuke others at all can likewise cause us to “bear a sin.”
Here are two ways:
- Our previous mitzvah tells us not to secretly loathe others. If we have a problem with others because of their misdeeds, we should tell them in the hope of correcting their behavior, rather than risk violating the prohibition against hating them in our hearts;
- If one has the ability to correct another’s behavior and fails to do so, he bears partial responsibility for the misdeeds he could have prevented. We see this from the story of the “cow of Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah.” The Talmud in Shabbos (54b) discusses how the cow belonging to Rabbi Elazar’s neighbor used to go out on Shabbos wearing a forbidden type of strap. The cow was called by Rabbi Elazar’s name because he never tried to correct his neighbor’s behavior.
We see from all this that if one properly rebukes others, he can avoid all sorts of trouble!
The underlying rationale for this mitzvah is to make peace. If one acts out in public but is gently corrected in private, the two parties can reconcile. If one keeps the rebuke inside, it will just build up into resentment and hatred.
It is only a mitzvah to try to correct someone when we think the other person might listen. If a person knows that the rebuke will be ignored, he should keep it to himself. Proverbs 9:8 tells us, “Don’t rebuke a scoffer; he’ll only hate you for it. But if you rebuke a wise person, he’ll love you for it.” (See Talmud Yevamos 65b.) Of course, when our behavior is corrected, we should strive to act like wise people and appreciate the intervention!
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