Q: While walking down the street, I passed a group of girls and noticed that one of them was putting down another girl in a terrible way. I felt it wasn’t right to keep quiet, and therefore went over and told off the girl. I later regretted what I did, and realized that I shouldn’t have reproached the girl in front of her friends, but rather should have called her aside and spoken to her gently. I don’t know who these girls are, and have no way of apologizing to her. How can I correct my wrong?
A: The Torah tells us, “Hochei’ach tochiach es amisecha v’lo sisah alav cheit.” This means that one should reproach another Jew softly so as not to offend him. Offending someone while giving him tochachah is considered a transgression.
In your case, it initially seems that you should have spoken to the girl privately and not amongst her friends. You did, however, do well by telling her off publicly because the girl embarrassed her friend badly in front of all the others. This is a case where there is a point of “migdar milsa” — assuring that her friends won’t learn from her. Your public reproach taught the others that it is forbidden to do what their friend did, and you also averted a chillul Hashem that could take place when a terrible deed is done and nobody counters it. If your reproach was especially harsh, it may be considered a wrongdoing. It is, however, enough for you to accept upon yourself to be careful to give tochachah properly (i.e. in private and gently,) in the future.