For the week ending 4 January 2003 / 1 Shevat 5763

The Silent (Mis)treatment

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Question: I have a next door neighbor who causes me great discomfort. The smoke coming in to my yard when he burns his leaves and the volume of the music he plays when I am trying to take an afternoon nap are examples of his inconsiderate behavior. Rather than get into a quarrel with him I have just stopped talking to him. Is this the proper approach?

Answer: Definitely not! While your desire to avoid quarreling with your neighbor is highly commendable, your giving him the "silent treatment" is not a commendable or effective way of dealing with someone who you feel has hurt you.

In his Mishneh Torah (Hilchot Dayot 6:6) Rambam has the following to say on this subject: "When one man sins against another, the victim should not hate him and maintain silence. This is the way of the wicked, as it is written about Avshalom that "he did not speak with Amnon neither good nor bad, for Avshalom hated Amnon" (Shmuel II 13:22). On the contrary, he is obligated to confront him and to say to him Why did you do this to me and why did you sin against me in this way?. This is what the Torah instructs us to do in the command of You shall not hate your brother in your heart; you must surely rebuke your neighbor." (Vayikra 19:17).

The purpose of such confrontation is to give the other fellow an opportunity to explain himself. He may be completely unaware that his smoke or his noise is actually reaching and disturbing you. In the worst case scenario that he was truly inconsiderate your rebuke may well elicit from him an apology for his behavior.

This is not merely good advice for neighbors. Many of the strained relations between husband and wife, parents and children and business associates could be averted if the injured party summoned up the courage to confront rather than let silence prolong the hatred.

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