We're about to embark on a fairly long discussion of issues that come up when
we interact with others. For our interactions with others certainly effect
our spiritual status, too. In that we can certainly be spiritually excellent
or mediocre in that realm every bit as much as we can in our relations to G-d
As such we'll start with a number of individuals who’d need to improve the
ways they either perceive of others or conduct themselves with them if
they're ever to grow full in their beings. Rabbeinu Yonah refers to them as
the "Four Types" (the four offensive types par excellence): maligners, liars,
flatterers, and slanderers.
It's clear, though, that these are character types that seem to be rather
benign, actually. After all, they don't harm anyone physically, they don't
rob or steal, and they don't threaten anyone. But as we'll see, they
nonetheless subtly but decidedly demean others and slowly eat away at the
fabric of their victims' dignity.
The truth be known, some of our more intelligent, well-read, otherwise
accomplished friends and neighbors embody some or all of these traits. For
it's assumed to be quite cosmopolitan, post-modern, sophisticated, and
debonair to scoff at things, for example; to lie (which some of us see as
merely "adding color", "dramatizing", or "accentuating"), to flatter (or,
ingratiate yourself onto) someone, and to slander. The emotional and personal
havoc wreaked by these traits is real nonetheless, despite the air of
innocence given them by their perpetrators. And the Torah thus forbids these
We'll concentrate on the first type this time: maligners. And we'll see that
Rabbeinu Yonah tells of five different sorts.
The first sort is the kind of person who maligns and besmirches others'
reputations. Not because he gains anything tangible by doing that himself
(which is abysmal but at least understandable). Simply out of sheer arrogance
and insolence. An example might be a musician, let's say, who picks away at,
subtly puts down, and disparages other musicians' works all the time, even
when it doesn't help his own reputation..
The second sort of maligner is something of a snob. He’s the kind of person
who has little respect for anyone of a lower stature than he, or who hasn't
achieved some kind of honor, repute, or power. But someone would only malign
such a person because he believes deep down that whatever success a person
enjoys is due to his own cunning and know-how. And that as far as he sees it
anyone "unsuccessful" in those sorts of ways is neither cunning nor capable.
But as people of faith and wisdom know only too well, our successes and
failures ultimately hinge on G-d’s will alone. For even the greatest among us
sometimes fail or go unnoticed; and that often enough even a buffoon can
shine by Divine Decree.
The third sort always makes a point of mocking things that others try to do
(without necessarily denigrating the people who do them themselves). They
wind up rejecting things ahead-of-time that are actually quite good and
promising. Only because they think themselves wiser and more far-sighted than
the rest of us that. And they thus stifle progress. But as Rabbeinu Yonah
cites it, we’re taught that "Everyone has his hour, and everything has its
place" ("Pirke Avo" 4:3).
The fourth sort of maligner Rabbeinu Yonah focuses upon is the sort of person
who always dwells on meaningless and worthless things. The truth be known, we
wouldn’t consider someone like that a "maligner" per se. But as Rabbeinu
Yonah says later on, "By acting the way he does, he shows just how little
value he places on mitzvot" and on Torah study. That’s to say, the sort of
person who’d occupy himself with trivia and be oblivious to the wisdom and
stark depth of Torah and mitzvot in fact maligns them by default. Indeed
anyone in search of spiritual excellence would be restless in his or her
quest for the sort of wisdom and depth of being that Torah study and the
And the fifth sort of maligning is a consequence of the sort of levity and
lightheartedness that comes from being intoxicated. Rabbeinu Yonah’s
contention is that aside from being negative, alcoholics are oftentimes rowdy
and too talkative; and they thus deny themselves chances for wisdom. As such,
those who are prone to this not only scoff at and denigrate others, and thus
lapse into spiritual mediocrity when it comes to their interpersonal
realations. They also denigrate *themselves*, and fail to find the good
Subscribe to Spiritual Excellence and receive the class via e-mail.