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Sotah, 42

SOTAH 42 - This Daf has been sponsored through the generous donation of Rabbi Heshy Wolf of Brooklyn N.Y.


QUESTION: The Gemara relates many statements regarding the severity of the sin of "Chanifah," flattery. One who uses Chanifah will be punished with Galus in this world, and will descend to Gehinom in the next. The Gemara says that one of the four groups of people who will not merit to greet the Shechinah is the group of those who use Chanifah.

Earlier (41b), however, Rebbi Yehudah bar Ma'arava (or, according to others, Rebbi Shimon ben Pazi) teaches that it is permitted to use Chanifah and flatter Resha'im in this world. If it is permitted, then why is the punishment so terrible?


(a) The simple answer is that it is only permitted to flatter a Rasha by emphasizing the good qualities that he actually possesses while ignoring the evil that he does. The Chachamim were punished for using Chanifah with Agripas, because they were supporting his wrongful ascension to the throne. Rebbi Shimon ben Pazi, on the other hand, permits calling a "Naval" (a vile person) a "Nadiv," generous, when that person gives money to Tzedakah, despite his evil traits. Reish Lakish derives that this form of Chanifah is permitted from the verse in which Yakov greeted Esav by declaring how honored he was to see that Esav no longer harbored bad feelings towards him.

RAV MOSHE FEINSTEIN zt'l takes such an approach Halachically (Igros Moshe OC II:51). He points out that the way the Chachamim describe the Isur of Chanifah, the prohibition seems to apply only when one praises a Rasha for an evil deed, giving the impression that the evil deed is permitted.

(b) However, RABEINU YONAH (Sha'arei Teshuvah, Sha'ar 3:189) writes explicitly that even praising a Rasha for his positive traits and ignoring his evil traits and deeds is not permitted, since it causes people to think that the Rasha did only good and did no evil. He finds support for this in a verse in Mishlei (28:4) which says that only those who desert the Torah, praise a Rasha (see also Sotah 42b, "Asur Lesaper b'Shivchan Shel Resha'im"). (It is possible that Rabeinu Yonah only prohibits praising a Rasha for the moral acts that he does when he acts unethically toward his fellow man. Since one is praising the person for matters of Bein Adam la'Chaveiro and ignoring his negative aspects of Bein Adam la'Chaveiro, it appears like one is encouraging his general conduct of Bein Adam la'Chaveiro and not just the specific good act that he did. But if the Rasha sins only bein adam la'Makom, then praising him for his ethical conduct Bein Adam la'Chaveiro does not show an acceptance of the way he acts Bein Adam la'Makom. See Rabeinu Yonah there, 3:187.)

Rabeinu Yonah explains that the Gemara permits flattering a Rasha when the Rasha happens to be wealthy or powerful, and because of his wealth or power people would normally honor him by showing him respect. Even though it is clear to everyone that the reason one is showing respect for this person is because of his wealth or power, nevertheless if he is a Rasha it is not proper to respect him, but, on the contrary, one should try to lower his stature in the eyes of people so that he should repent. However, if there is a possibility that acting in such a way will cause personal damage at the hands of the Rasha, then it is permitted to act toward the wealthy Rasha in the same way that one would act toward any other wealthy person.

However, if the Rasha is not wealthy or powerful, then it is always prohibited to praise him for any good deeds that he does.

The Gemara teaches that there are four groups of people who do not merit to greet the Shechinah in the World to Come: Letzim (scoffers), Chanifim (flatterers), Shakranim (liars), and Mesaprei Lashon ha'Ra (slanderers). RABEINU YONAH (Sha'arei Teshuvah 3:172-231) discusses in detail the various aspects of these four groups, and he lists the different categories within each group. His words shed much light on the definitions of these groups. We will summarize here the different categories of each group, which he lists in order of decreasing severity.

1. LETZIM (five categories):

(a) A person who spreads false rumors about others in order to degrade them (this constitutes Lashon ha'Ra as well).

(b) One who degrades others because of what they lack.

(c) One who constantly scoffs at specific items or actions (because he thinks he is smarter than everyone and knows better what course of action to take).

(d) One who wastes time with non-productive talk and activities (Bitul Torah).

(e) A joker who tries to attract attention by making jokes (this manifestation of Letzanus often occurs as a result of inebriation).

2. CHANIFIM (nine categories):
(a) One who sees his friend sin and encourages him, telling his friend that that he did nothing wroing.

(b) One who sees his friend sin and compliments him for his good qualities, ignoring his evil deeds (see previous Insight).

(c) One who sees his friend sin and compliments him in private, encouraging his friend to continue sinning, but not encouraging others to follow his ways.

(d) One who sees another person sin and becomes friendly with him and joins his company of friends.

(e) One who praises his friends or relatives for good deeds that they did not actually perform, in order to enhance his relationship with them.

(f) One who sees someone sin and does not rebuke him when his rebuke would have helped.

(g) One who sees someone sin and does not rebuke him when he is in doubt whether or not his rebuke will be effective to stop the sinner from sinning.

(h) One is present when a person sins, and although he knows for certain that the sinner will not accept his rebuke, he does not even protest the action. Even though he knows that his protest will not have an effect on the sinner, he must show others his disapproval.

(i) One honors a sinner who happens to be wealthy or powerful, and one honors him like he honors other wealthy or powerful people who are not sinners. (Chanifah in this case is permitted if there is a threat that the wealthy or powerful sinner will cause him damage if he does not receive the honor that he thinks he deserves; see previous Insight.)

3. SHAKRANIM (9 categories):
(a) One who lies in order to steal from or abuse others, thereby transgressing the prohibitions of "Lo Sigzol" and "Lo Soneh."

(b) One who lies in order to present himself as someone's friend so that at some point in the future he will be able to steal from him or swindle him.

(c) One who lies in order to receive some future benefit that he would not have received otherwise.

(d) One who lies (even though he causes no harm) simply because he is accustomed to lying, or because he does not clarify the facts before repeating them. (This is permitted "Mipnei ha'Shalom," for the sake of peace; see Insights to Yevamos 65b.)

(e) One who acts towards others differently than the way he feels inside, even though he does not actively lie.

(f) One who promises to give something to (or do something for) his friend and does not fulfill his promise. If he offers his friend something small or easy, then even if he does not make a promise to give it, he still must keep his word.

(g) One who tells another about a way that he helped someone else, when he really did not help (Geneivas Da'as).

(h) One who praises himself, or accepts praise, for good traits that he does not possess.

(i) A person who occasionally lies regarding issues that in no way affect others, but merely because he derives benefit (such as attention) from his lies.

4. MESAPREI LASHON HA'RA (6 categories):
(a) A person who slanders someone else with a false claim (same as 1-a above).

(b) One who slanders others by telling the truth about what the other person's parents did or what the other person himself did before he repented, in order to cause others to lose esteem for him.

(c) One who informs his friend about the slander that someone else said about him (Rechilus).

(d) One who does something that causes others to suspect him of speaking Lashon ha'Ra. For example, if he relates his friend's good deeds in the presence of his friend's enemy (Avak Lashon ha'Ra).

(e) One who speaks "Nivul Peh" -- immoral speech and expletives.

(f) One who constantly complains about others and judges them unfavorably (Nirgan).


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