Some years ago I came across a stunning interpretation of an oft-cited halachic principle that is referenced in today’s daf (Ketubot 76b).
In terms of the principle itself, it states that – המוציא מחבירו עליו הראיה’If someone wishes to claim an item or a sum of money from someone else (literally ‘someone who wishes to draw something out from their fellow’), then the proof is on them (i.e. they must provide the proof that they are deserving of the item or sum of money in order for their claim to be successful)’.
Admittedly, all this is true in the framework of a formal Beit Din. However, Rabbi Yekutiel Yehudah Teitelbaum (see his ‘Yetev Lev’ commentary on Parshat Metzorah) adds a further layer of meaning to this phrase based on his reading of Vayikra 19:17 which states: הוֹכֵחַ תּוֹכִיחַ אֶת עֲמִיתֶךָ וְלֹא תִשָּׂא עָלָיו חֵטְא – ‘you shall surely reprove your fellow and you shall not bear a sin upon him’. Significantly, many commentaries endeavour to explain the repetition of הוֹכֵחַ תּוֹכִיחַ (which literally translates as ‘reprove! You shall reprove!’). However, Rabbi Teitelbaum explains this repetition to mean that we should first reprove ourselves, and only then attempt to reprove others.
In this same spirit, Rabbi Teitelbaum then writes that, ‘I have heard that this idea is hinted to in the Talmudic teaching of המוציא מחבירו עליו הראיה’ which he explains to mean that if you wish to inspire, influence and ‘draw out’ the best in others (המוציא מחבירו), then ‘you should serve as proof’ and thereby serve as an example than this is something that you too are working towards (עליו הראיה).
Unfortunately, there are those who strive to influence others but who erroneously think that the best way to do so is to ignore the fact that they are working on improving aspects of themselves. Moreover, there are even those who reprove others who ignore their duty to first reprove themselves.
Yet in stark contrast to such people, there is no doubt that the most impactful ‘influencers’ who inspire others to change are those who honestly acknowledge their own failings and who work towards self-improvement – for in so doing, their struggles and their steps towards progress serves as proof that others can struggle and can make steps towards progress.
Ultimately, if we want to reprove, we should first start with ourselves; and if we wish to teach about the importance of self-improvement, we ourselves must serve as an example.