The Gates of Repentance
We touch now upon the third of the "four types" of egregious offenders,
flatterers. The Hebrew term for "flatterers" can actually also be translated
as "hypocrites" or the unwieldy but accurate "those who try to ingratiate
themselves to others in order to curry favor with them". We’ll use the term
most appropriate to the context from time to time. Once again, though, the
astute reader will be embarrassed to find him- or herself so aptly singled
There are nine sorts of "flatterers". The first kind (the "ingratiator")
knows someone has done something wrong, or has been inconsiderate or even
cruel to someone else and actually tells the perpetrator that he’s done
nothing wrong (because he wants to get on his "good side"). This flatterer is
considered an accomplice to a "crime", and could be said to be an enemy of
The second kind goes out of his way to actually *praise* wrongdoers and to
say things like, "You know, he’s actually a good fellow despite his flaws".
While on one level that shows empathy for that side of each one of us that’s
capable of wrongdoing, on the other hand it encourages wrongdoing per se. So
while you might sympathize with the fact that they’d slipped and fallen, as
Rabbeinu Yonah put’s it, "at least don’t bless them!"
The third kind at least knows to only praise wrongdoers to their face rather
than to others. But still and all he validates the wrongdoer’s actions in his
own eyes by complimenting him, and thus disallows him a chance to regret his
ways and do teshuva (return to G-d).
The fourth kind not only doesn’t chastise wrongdoers-- they actually befriend
them. But as Rabbeinu Yonah points out, quoting from the Talmud, "Birds dwell
with their kind, and people dwell with others like themselves" (Babba Kama
92B); i.e., "Birds of a feather flock together". So a person’s having
befriended a wrongdoer says something about him too.
The fifth kind of flatterer (or "hypocrite") is someone who’s trusted and
depended upon by others who belies that trust, and recommends a friend or
crony for an auspicious position (or for a partnership with someone, for
example) that the friend isn’t qualified for. A world of damage often results
from such situations.
The sixth kind is the sort of person who has a chance to gently point out
another person’s faults and show how off the mark he is, but doesn’t. He
doesn’t even look askance at what that other person does. What he does
instead is "accept" it all passively (or with a wink of an eye). But as we’re
taught, "Whoever can protest (against wrongdoing) in the world and doesn’t is
held responsible for it" (Shabbat 54B), i.e., he’s a party to it on some
The seventh kind of flatterer sees people around him stubbornly doing harm
and says to himself, "They’re not likely to listen to me anyway if I say
anything about it, so why bother?" But the truth be known, he might very well
be able to turn them around, and he’d miss the chance. Rabbeinu Yonah does
point out, though, that certain wrongdoers are simply *known* to hate
criticism, in which case nothing you’d say would do any good. It’s said in
that instance that "Just as it’s a mitzvah to say something that will be
listened to, so too is it a mitzvah to *not* say something that won’t be
listened to" (Yevamot 65B).
The eighth kind would hear about people slandering others, speaking
profanely, or demeaning Torah and would keep his mouth closed, because he too
is convinced they wouldn’t listen to him (like the previous example). But
this is one of those cases in which you’re obliged to stop associating with
certain people-- people like this, in this instance. For otherwise you’d find
yourself hearing what they had to say over and over again, to your spiritual
And the ninth kind show wrongdoers respect in order to be on good terms with
them. And while this sort of flatterer doesn’t say anything good about those
wrongdoers, and doesn’t show them the kind of respect that would lead others
to think highly of them, what he’s doing is still ill-advised.
As we indicated above, the sensitive soul would take stock of just how often
he finds himself telling wrongdoers they’re not doing anything wrong; going
out of his way to praise or at least somehow endorse wrongdoers, to
complement them, or to actually befriend them; recommending a friend for a
position he or she isn’t really qualified for; not looking askance at but
rather accepting wrongdoing on one level or another; saying to yourself about
wrongdoers, "They’re not likely to listen to me anyway if I say anything, so
why bother?"; keeping quiet in the face of slander and blasphemy; or showing
wrongdoers respect in order to be on good terms with them.
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