In this week’s Torah readings, Parshas Matos and Masei, the Torah says (35:33), “And you shall not exercise flattery in the land.” The flattery referred to here is flattery in the face of evil. The Torah is hereby prohibiting us from expressing legitimacy to people who act wrongly, in order to find favor with them (see Sifri, piska 161, Yereim, siman 248).
Covering up for evil is not a trivial matter. The Talmud expounds at great length (Sotah 41b-42a) about the severity of this trait. The Talmud says that a person who does so is cursed, despised and headed for downfall. Rabeinu Yonah lists nine levels of this category (Sha’arei Teshuvah, 3:187-199).
The most severe form of this is blatantly telling the person who sinned, “You did no wrong.” Conveying legitimacy to evil is considered to be an act of actively supporting the wrongdoing and is a grave sin on its own right. Even just praising a sinner as being a good person, without legitimizing any specific deed, is also in this category.
Not only that, Rabeinu Yonah says that remaining silent when a sin is committed or when others praise evildoers is also a form of attributing legitimacy to evil. This is because refraining from putting up a protest lends the impression that one is supportive of the act, and this too is a sin on its own right. It is not enough to just keep ourselves in line. The Torah demands that we take a stand for God’s will and make certain that we don’t lend any credibility whatsoever to transgressing Torah law and values.
After the passing of the Chazon Ish, who was one of the leading Torah scholars at the time, the Rosh Yeshivah (dean) of the Telsh Yeshivah (School for Talmud study), Rabbi Eliyahu Meir Bloch, delivered a eulogy in his honor. A relatively small crowd showed up, and Rabbi Bloch was disappointed. He saw the minimal turnout as a lack of respect for Torah.
Not long afterwards, the Yeshivah held its annual fundraising dinner. When the Rosh Yeshivah rose to speak, he began reprimanding the crowd for failing to show proper respect to Torah by failing to attend the eulogy of one of the greatest Torah luminaries of the time.
When the Yeshivah staff realized what he was doing, they tried to dissuade him from continuing with his criticism and attempted to advise him to save it for another occasion. But Rabbi Bloch persisted undeterred. No matter that the people in attendance were gathered to support his Yeshivah. When it came to standing up for what was right, he was not put off by financial considerations.
We may, at times, find this concept to be difficult to implement. It can be very hard to take a stand and decry the behavior of others, especially if they are people of power or people we count on to receive benefit. But we must view this as a test to our true loyalty in life. If we are truly loyal to God and His Torah, then His honor must take precedence over being in favor with some mortal.
It is not enough to keep ourselves from sin. If we hold upstanding conduct to be a true value, we must be ready to denounce those who act corruptly and compromise Torah standards. This is what proves what our true values are in life. This is the expression of our true loyalty to God and the Torah.
As challenging as it may be, it is our duty to stand on guard in maintaining proper conduct in high status, which means making sure we are not perceived as granting any legitimacy to any evil and anything which does not concur with the way of the Torah. (In a case where being outspoken may cause harm to a relationship or any other type of damage, one should consult with a qualified rabbi on the proper approach to take. At the same time, this cannot become just an excuse to refrain from standing up in the face of corrupt behavior. The mere fact that it is uncomfortable to take a stand does not exempt one from doing so.)
Parshas Matos-Masei by Rabbi Yitchok Aryeh Strimber (firstname.lastname@example.org)