Practise the mitzvah of tochacha

  • ParshaVaeiraRabbi Bloch
Nobody likes rebuke. There are very few people, if any, who like other people to point out their wrongdoings and expose their shortcomings. Even words like rebuke, admonishment and criticism make one wince in fear and are loaded with negative connotations.
by Rabbi Shmuel Bloch, Hazelwood Shabbat Minyan | May 31, 2018

Helping others to recognise and correct their faults and errors is a skill that takes time to learn and needs constant practice. In this week’s Parsha, Hashem Himself gives guidelines as to the correct way that it should be done.

Towards the end of the Parsha, the Torah discusses how Miriam and Aaron were critical of Moses’s actions, and were of the opinion that he made a terrible mistake. Their conversation was considered Lashon Harah.

Hashem appeared to them at the Ohel Moed (the Tent of Meeting) and admonished them with the following words:“Hear now (Shimu na) My words... Why did you not fear to speak against My servant Moses” (Bamidbar, 12 verse 6-8).

Rashi explains that the Hebrew word “na” is always used as a form of request and is usually translated as the word “please”. The Sifsei Chachamim (an in-depth super commentary on Rashi) explains that Hashem spoke to them gently, using the word “please” – because if He’d spoken in a harsh and angry tone, the rebuke would not have been accepted.

Rabbi Alter Henoch Leibowitz, in his collected insights on the Torah called Majesty of Man, poses a startling question.

Miriam and Aaron were two of the most righteous and virtuous people in the history of the Jewish people. Aaron was the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) and Miriam was a prophetess. The Jewish people had a constant supply of water in the desert only in Miriam’s merit. Both Aaron and Miriam dedicated their lives to serve Hashem with absolute devotion and perfection.

Is it really possible, asks Rabbi Leibowitz, that two of the holiest people who had ever lived would not have accepted Hashem’s rebuke if it was not worded in such a soft way?

Rabbi Leibowitz answers that indeed, Hashem – with His infinite knowledge of human behaviour – knew that if He did not address them in such a mild fashion, His rebuke would lose some of its effectiveness and would not have achieved its desired result. It is basic human nature to be defensive.

This incredible insight should make us all pause and contemplate how we should go about performing the mitzvah of tochacha (rebuke).

The Torah teaches us that a rebuke delivered with love is a powerful tool that can transform people’s lives. Hashem has illustrated to us how to achieve this goal in the most practical way: with a soothing voice and language that radiates real care and concern.

If you rebuke with love and communicate your real desire to assist others, then for sure all the people you help will be eternally grateful and will, in turn, love you for it.


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