Parashat Noach

[From Sichat Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah – Bereshit pp. 90-92, edit by Rav Aviner]

The Dubno Maggid once came to a small town. He went to minyan and there were only nine men, and the Maggid was greatly distressed. They asked him if it was permissible to count "Chaim'ke the Thief" for the minyan. He rebuked them: "G-d forbid you should refer to a Jew by this name." They went and brought him. The Magid welcomed him with great respect: Shalom Alecha, Reb Chaim. The following day, the Magid was looking for a messenger to bring some money to a nearby city. They suggested "Reb Chaim" to him. The Magid was surprised: "How can someone suspected of theft serve as a messenger for this? They reminded him that he himself honored him and called him: "Reb Chaim." The Magid told them that there is a major difference in the two cases. When you are simply talking about a Jew, it is forbidden to call him a thief, but when it comes to a practical matter, everything must be clear: is he a thief or not?

The source for this idea is found in this week's parashah. On the one hand, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said in the Gemara (Pesachim 3a): One should not speak in a derogatory manner since Hashem commanded Noach to bring the animals into the ark with these words: "From the pure animals and the animals which are not pure" (Bereshit 7:2). Instead of saying "the impure animals," the Torah was unusually verbose – and said: "the animals which are not pure" in order not to speak in a derogatory manner. This principle is quoted by the Magen Avraham (#156) as the proper practice.

On the other hand, when it comes to matter of practical Halachah, we do not employ this principle. The Rishonim point out that when the Torah lists the non-kosher animals in Parashat Shemini, it says: "the impure animals." When it comes to practical Halachah, there is a need to be clear. If a Rabbi says "Not kosher" instead of "Treif," perhaps someone will not hear the word "not."

We see this many places in the Torah. When a person stricken with Tza'arat left the camp, he called out: "Impure, impure" (Vayikra 13:45) and not "Not pure, not pure." And "Do not eat Treif meat, throw it to the dogs" (Shemot 22:30) instead of "Do not eat non-kosher meat." And the son in the Haggadah of Pesach is called "The wicked son" and not "The not righteous son."

When it comes speaking to other Jews, we must speak gently and with respect: "Reb Chaim." But when it comes to practical Halachah, we use the clearest and most direct language: "Chaim'ke the Thief."