The Mitzvah of Appeasing One Another

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Halakhic Positions of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik

by R. Aharon Ziegler

The main focus on Yom Kippur is the Mitzvah of Teshuva; it is the culmination of “The Ten Days of Teshuva”. Whereas the beginning of this period, Rosh HaShana stresses the Teshuva Bein Adam LaMakom, between man and G-d, [in terms of Malchuyot, establishing the Kingdom of G-d], the emphasis of Y.K. is the Teshuva Bein Adam LeChaveiro. Indeed, the title heading of the Shulchan Aruch [606] reads, “She’ye’fayes Adam LeChaveiro BeErev Yom HaKippurim

Rambam stresses this idea twice. In Hilchot Teshuva [2:9], based on Mishna Yoma [85b] he writes, “Neither Teshuva nor Yom Kippur atones except for transgressions between man and G-d-for example, eating forbidden food, and the like. But, transgressions between human beings-for example, one who strikes, curses or steals from his friend-will never be pardoned until he returns to his friend that which he is obligated to give and appease him. Even if he returned the money that he owes him, he must appease him and ask for forgiveness…”

Then in Hilchot Chovel U-Mazik, [5:9] Rambam codifies the Mishna in Bava Kama [92a], “One cannot compare one who damages his friend’s property [called- Nezek} to one who harms his person, [called- Chovel, or injury]. One who damages property receives atonement once he pays the compensation for the damage. But one who strikes his fellow human being , even if he compensates him with the five required payments {nezek, tzaar, ripui, boshet, and shevet}, he does not receive atonement[Velo Nimchal Avono] , until he asks for forgiveness from the injured party, and he pardons him [ve’yimchal lo]”.

These two Halachot require an explanation.

  • Why does Rambam feel it necessary to formulate a Halacha in Hilchot Chovel U-Mazik that which he already codified in Hilchot Teshuva?
  • Furthermore, In Hilchot Teshuva he is far more elaborate on this point. He writes [2:9] “Even if he annoyed his friend only verbally, he must [Le’fa’yeso] appease him and [Le’fig’o] beg him until he forgives him. If his friend does not wish to forgive him he brings a group of three of his friends who entreat him and ask him. If he is unwilling to respond to their overtures, he brings a second group and a third time [probably a different group each time]. If he is still unwilling, he leaves him, and the aggrieved person that would not grant forgiveness is the transgressor”.
  • The Rambam concludes [2:10], “If the aggrieved party died before granting forgiveness, the perpetrator must bring ten people to the grave and say aloud: I have sinned against the G-d of Israel, and against so and so by doing such and such to him”

Rav Soloveitchik analyzed these two Halachot, semantically and conceptually. The term Mechilta-Pardon –is a formal legal term, like being Michel, waiving a debt. Piyus or ritzui-appeasing the injured party-requires psychological preparation. One must first devise a strategy and look for an opportune moment. This requires a thorough and painstaking endeavor.

In Hilchot Chovel u-Mazik, after paying for all the expenses and damages, the Rambam is speaking about gaining a pardon [mechila] from the injured person. However, in Hilchot Teshuva, a mechila is not enough. For Teshuva we need a reconciliation, rapprochement and intimacy. Ritzui and piyus can and should bring about a metamorphosis in a relationship that has gone awry, transforming an enemy into a friend.

In the first two chapters of Hilchot Teshuva, the Rambam focuses not on the injury and needs of restitution, but rather on the Mitzvah of Teshuva. Here, what must be rectified is the relationship between the human being and G-d, which has been damaged by the sin of one human being against another. From this perspective, although an act of mechila may win atonement, it is not enough for Teshuva. Here we require that the guilty party seek out the injured party with words of piyus and ritzui; to entreat him to once again become a friend. That’s what we must strive for during this period of year. Hopefully, we will be successful.

About Aharon Ziegler

Rabbi Aharon Ziegler is the Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Agudath Achim of Boro Park and the Dean and Rosh Kollel of Kollel Agudath Achim. He is the author of six volumes of Halakhic Positions of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik.

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