Rasha – An Evil Classification
By: Dayan Yehonassan Hool; Bais HaVaad Yerushalayim
What is a Rasha?
Everyone knows what a Tzaddik is.
A Tzaddik is one who is stringent in keeping the Torah, who weighs his every action, word, and thought according to the laws of the Torah.
The opposite of the tzaddik is the Rasha – the “wicked man.”
But the term “Rasha” is not merely an epithet – in Halachah there are clear parameters as to who is a Rasha, and there are several practical ramifications to this classification.
Rasha – An Invalid Witness
First and foremost, the Torah states “Do not extend your hand with a Rasha to be a venal witness.” The Gemara (Sanhedrin 27a) derives from this that a Rasha is invalid to be used as a witness.
In Halacha, a witness has two functions. Firstly, Beis Din will rely on two valid witnesses who testify, and unless they are proved false or are otherwise compromised, the Beis Din will rule in line with their testimony. Further, some procedures in Halachah, such as marriage and divorce ceremonies, require the presence of two witnesses to validate them. A Rasha is invalid to be used, for example, as a witness to a marriage ceremony, and his testimony cannot be relied upon by a Beis Din.
In fact, the Commentaries derive from the above-quoted wording of the Torah that not only is the Rasha an invalid witness, but one may not even appear in Beis Din together with a Rasha as a pair of witnesses. Even if what you and the Rasha are testifying to you know for a fact is true, having witnessed it with your own eyes, you are nonetheless forbidden to join up with the Rasha as witnesses, because you will cause the Beis Din to act on the testimony of the Rasha, which they may must not do.
There are other consequences of receiving the status of Rasha. The Shulchan Aruch rules that a Rasha may not be buried in the immediate vicinity of the righteous, for example, and on occasion it is permitted to publicize the actions of the Rasha until he repents, as we shall see below.
But what exactly is a Rasha? Is anyone who sins considered a Rasha?
Classification of a Rasha
Actually, the Halachah gives clear guidelines for the classification of a Rasha.
As far as invalidating his testimony is concerned, the Shulchan Aruch rules that anyone who transgresses a Torah-mandated prohibition is classified as a Rasha, as long as that prohibition carries with it capital punishment, such as the death sentence or even the punishment of Malkos (lashes). One who transgresses lesser Torah-mandated prohibitions is only invalidated as a witness by Rabbinic law, not by Torah law, as is one who transgresses a Rabbinic-mandated law. So one who lights a fire on Shabbos, for example, will be invalidated by Torah law from being a witness, whereas one who moves muktzeh on Shabbos, a Rabbinic prohibition, can be a “kosher” witness as far as the Torah is concerned, but will nonetheless be invalidated Rabbinically.
One who transgresses the Halachah unintentionally, or out of ignorance, is not rendered a Rasha, but if he transgresses intentionally, he is a Rasha whether he did it deliberately to defy his religion or merely because his physical desires overcame his better judgment.
One Who Lifts His Hand to Smite
Another example of a Rasha is one who smites his fellow man, or even raises his hand against his fellow man with intention to strike him. When Moshe Rabbenu caught two Jews fighting, he admonished one who was about to smite his friend, “And he said to the Rasha, “Why will you smite your fellow?””
Such a Rasha is also invalid to be used as a witness. (Although the above verse indicates that to hit someone is a Torah prohibition, nonetheless since one who does so does not receive the punishment of lashes, he is considered a Rasha only under Rabbinic classification.)
Chazal further expand the classification of “Rasha” to other transgressors as well. For example, the verse “A wicked borrower does not pay back” teaches that one who borrows money and wastes it needlessly, leaving the lender with no recourse to reclaim the loan, is a Rasha.
Another example: The prophet Yechezkel discusses the wicked man who “defiles his fellow man’s wife.” Chazal interpret this to refer to one who closes down his fellow man’s business, rendering him unable to financially support himself. As the Navi writes, “The wickedness of the Rasha shall be upon him.”
Extending this, Chazal say that one who tortiously interferes with another’s business deal is also called a Rasha. In other words, if a buyer and a seller are about to close a deal, it is forbidden for someone else to enter a competing bid to buy the goods or property (unless solicited by the seller himself). This is called “Ani hamehapech becharrarah,” and one who succeeds in grabbing the deal from under the nose of the first prospective buyer is called a Rasha. Although he need not sell it on to the first buyer, he is nonetheless categorized as a Rasha.
In this instance, the Poskim give ramifications for this classifying him as a Rasha, in that it is permissible to publicize the inappropriate actions of this Rasha, and the Sm”a goes so far as to rule that one may publicly denounce him in shul!
Bad Advise and Other Classifications of Rasha
Sometimes, even one who doesn’t act but merely advises is classified as a Rasha. If someone gifts a property to a friend, conditioning it by instructing that whatever is left of it when the recipient dies should go to a third person, the recipient may use the property but should not give it away to another, because if he does, then when he dies there will be nothing for the third person to receive, since it was given away in the lifetime of the recipient. Nonetheless, if he does give it away, his gift is valid. It is forbidden, though, for someone else to advise him to do so, to the detriment of the third person, and one who does so is also called a Rasha.
Other people who Chazal classify as Rasha include one who makes a vow, even if he is careful not to contravene his vow, and one who gives out Halachic rulings even though he is unqualified to do so.
Interestingly, the Mishnah exhorts Dayanim to consider both parties that appear before them in a Beis Din as Resha’im, until they accept the final ruling of the Beis Din. Sefer Chassidim takes this even further and writes that since the Gemora forbids gazing at the countenance of a Rasha, the Dayanim should avoid staring at the faces of the parties appearing in Beis Din, since they are to be considered as resha’im until the end of proceedings. (Sha”ch points out that this is only the case where the two parties directly contradict each other – one of them must be lying, so one should not assume that either one is telling the truth until proved otherwise.) Once they accept the ruling of the Beis Din though, the same Mishnah instructs the Dayanim to consider both parties to be tzadikkim, and to assume that even the party ruled to be in the wrong did not intentionally steal or deliberately cause harm.
Finally, it is forbidden to go for arbitration in financial matters to a secular court rather than a Beis Din, and one who does so is referred to by the Shulchan Aruch as “A Rasha, [considered] as if he has blasphemed and raised up his hand against the Torah of Moshe Rabbenu.”
Teshuvah – Repentance of a Rasha
What about someone who finds himself under the uncomfortable classification of “Rasha” and would like to be relieved of this disagreeable title?
Clearly, the prerequisite condition is to do teshuvah, to repent completely from whatever misdemeanor it was that granted him this epithet. In the case of a thief, though, sincere repentance must include returning or repaying the stolen goods before he can be considered as a “kosher” witness.
So one who has been honored with being one of the two official witnesses at a chuppah should consider carefully if he is indeed a kosher witness, and if chas vesholom he isn’t, he should repent immediately before
 Choshen Mishpat, 34:2
 In fact, Remo”h (34:3) rules that transgressing a Rabbinically mandated prohibition renders one invalid as a witness only if this transgression involves some monetary gain – one who is willing to transgress for financial gain cannot be relied upon to give testimony in a Beis Din, because he is suspected of giving false testimony too in order to receive financial gain.
 The difference between being invalidated as a witness by the Torah or by Rabbinic decree can be demonstrated by the following: If a marriage ceremony was performed in the presence of only two people, both of them invalid to serve as witness by the Rabbis, the couple will be married by torah law but the ceremony will be invalid Rabbinically. Practically speaking, the couple still requires a Rabbinically kosher wedding ceremony before they can live together, but they cannot separate without a divorce, since by strict Torah law the witnesses are not invalid
 Choshen Mishpat, 420:1. Rem”oh (ibid) rules that one who smites his fellow man cannot be considered as one of a quorum of men that make up a minyan. See also Pischei Teshuvah there, quoting Chasam Sofer.
 Choshen Mishpat, 34:4
 Sm”a, Choshen Mishpat, 34:8
 Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 97:4
 Choshen Mishpat, 237:1
 Devorim, 23:23: “If you withhold from making vows you will have no sin,” implying that one who does make vows is a sinner.
 Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah, 242:13
 Sefer Chassidim, 1104
 Choshen Mishpat, 17:13
 Choshen Mishpat, 26:1