Especially after working hard and doing our best, it can be demoralizing if not hurtful. However, a mature person realizes, that there are others who know better than him, and at times, it is valuable to set aside the ego, and take some constructive criticism. Indeed, the Torah recognizes this concept, as the verse says in Leviticus 19:17 “You must rebuke your neighbor”. When we witness someone committing a negative act, it is a mitzvah to rebuke him.
But if only it were so simple. Recognizing human nature, our sages have qualified this idea of “rebuking”, and have given us several guidelines before we set about “putting others in their place.” First off, the Code of Jewish Law is clear, we must approach the person in private, with gentle words, telling him that we are genuinely concerned for him. And even more than this, if you know that your friend will not listen to you, and will continue with his bad ways, it is better that you do not rebuke him at all.
There are certainly times when it is a person’s duty to speak out about injustices he witnesses. Obviously when others are being hurt or mistreated. Or when there are people publicly fighting against and ridiculing Torah observance. But to strongly criticize an individual, a person must make sure he is approaching this in an appropriate, gentle manner.
The Parsha this week discusses different laws applying to a Kohen, the decedents of Aaron who served in the Holy Temple. One of these laws is that a Kohen is not allowed to come in contact with a corpse (except under extenuating circumstances). The verse reads, “Let no (Kohen) become ritually impure with a person amongst your people.”
The Maggid of Mezritch, Rabbi Dov Ber, who was the successor of the Baal Shem Tov and the second leader of the fledgling Chassidic movement, offers an allegorical interpretation of this verse. The Kohanim were an exceptionally kind group, who devoted much of their time to helping to guide the rest of the Jewish people. But this job entailed occasionally rebuking them as well. Therefore, the verse warns them that when they are “amongst their people”, rebuking them for their sins, the Kohen must not have any ulterior motives when being harsh to them (such as making personal attacks, or venting anger.) If the rebuke is performed for ignoble or sinister reasons, the Kohen will have “made himself ritually impure.”
If the Torah takes such pains to warn the Kohanim, whose job it was to rebuke others, about acting appropriately, how much more so should we all take this warning to heart, and be very careful when offering criticism to our friends and neighbors.
Shavuot is coming! The process our ancestors began on Pesach, by leaving the Land of Egypt, came to its epic conclusion forty-nine days later with the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Join us on May 24, as we relive this special day by hearing the Ten Commandments read from the Torah, and enjoying a special dairy lunch and ice cream buffet. We need a minyan to read from the Torah, so if you are able to attend, please do.
The first night of Shavuot it is the custom to remain awake learning Torah late into the night. Saturday night the 23rd , we will be having dinner at 8:00, followed by a class at 10:30. Everyone is invited to attend!
Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom,