Thursday, December 25, 2008

Responding to abuse - fight back or ignore?

One of the important questions is response to verbal abuse. Should one fight back verbally or physically? Should he ignore the insults? A related issue which is relevant also for physical or sexual abuse - should he/she forgive the assailant? The following quote from the Sefer Chinuch illustrates some of the tension.

Chinuch (#338)...However it would appear that it is not realistic to expect that if a Jew intentionally speaks badly about another person that the victim doesn’t respond. It is simply impossible that a person be like an immovable rock. Furthermore if the victim is silent in the face of the verbal abuse it is appears as if he agrees to the validity of the insult. In truth the Torah does not command that a person be as insensitive as a stone and be silent in the face of one who is insulting him - as he is to one who is giving him blessing.

Nevertheless the Torah has commanded us to distance ourselves from this situation and not to start to fight back and to insult others. We should simply avoid all of this. That is because someone who doesn’t fight will not be embarrassed by others – except by total fools and one should simply ignore fools.

On the other hand if someone is forced by the abuse to respond to his attacker – it is proper for a wise person to respond with temperance and not get overly angry. That is because anger is more appropriate for the uncultured. In this manner he will save himself from hearing insults and this will place the onus on the insulter. This is the good way for people to act.

It would seem that we could learn that it is permitted to respond to attack from the fact that the Torah permits one whose life is endangered to attack first and kill the one who threatens his life. There is no doubt that a person is not required to suffer physical harm at the hand of another person – everyone has the right to self defense. In a similar fashion he can save himself from verbal attack by replying in kind.

Nevertheless there is a type of man whose piety is so strong that he doesn’t want to be involved in this permitted activity of replying to insults. That is because he is concerned that their anger will get out of hand and they will get involved more than is appropriate. Concerning these pious people it says in Shabbos (88b): They are insulted but they don’t insult back. They hear the insults but do not reply. It about them in Shoftim (5:31): But they who love Him are as the sun when he goes forth in his might.

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