Tazria Metzora – Honest Relationships

Do we know where we stand in our relationships? Do we feel secure or uncertain in our relationships with others?

Our Parsha teaches us a critical perspective and approach to this issue, one that requires great wisdom and balance – what we now refer to as EQ or emotional intelligence – to properly apply.

“Do not carry hatred for your brother in your heart; rebuke your fellow and do not bear guilt over him.” (Vayikra 19:17) In the three clauses packed into this one verse, the Torah is urging us to appropriately express to others the resentment we may feel. We are urged to rebuke, to explain where we feel we have been wronged, but to do so in a way that will not itself be harmful.

One way to see this mandate is as a release valve, recognizing that a hatred kept inside will build and foment greater anger. We are therefore advised to “get it out of our system.” An alternative view is that holding the hatred within would misrepresent our true feelings towards the other person. Thus, our sages noted that when the Torah records (Bereishis 37:4) how the brothers of Yosef “hated him and were incapable of speaking to him peacefully,” this was actually a compliment to the brothers as their words to Yosef were honest and consistent with their feelings. As Rashi comments, “From their disgrace we learn their praise; they did not speak one way and feel another.”

One can only wonder, however, whether the value of honesty should always prevail. Those same sages (TB Eruchin 16b) spoke of the near impossibility of delivering rebuke properly without causing harm, without “bearing guilt”. How often are we able to express our feelings of hurt in a way which is appropriately measured? Would it not be better to passively continue the illusion of friendship and allow the resentment to remain in our hearts rather than to actively cause harm by bringing it out into the open?

Evidently not. If we do not know where we stand with each other, where the prevailing politeness leaves us guessing as to who our friends really are, we will suffer a meaningful lack of trust and confidence in all our relationships. The Torah therefore enjoins us to be honest with those around us.

We do, however, do best when we do not need to rebuke because we are able on our own to retire the resentments from our hearts, to put away petty things and to maintain genuine good feelings to others by bringing the same measure of understanding to others as we would want applied to us. But where we cannot and where we continue to bear hatred and resentment in our hearts, we owe it to our relationships to not pretend otherwise. We can avoid each other in a way that makes our unhappiness clear, or we can discuss our unhappiness with the offending party privately, carefully, and candidly. But we cannot live in a world of make-believe, projecting an inauthentic and misleading illusion of friendship and worthiness of trust.