How to Rebuke

The follower visiting the Belzer Rebbe, Harav Yissachar Dov, zy”a, still wore the traditional long peyos and chassidic garb, but the young boy accompanying him had clearly chosen a much more modern path.

“Is this your son?” the Rebbe asked the Chassid as he was handed the kvittel.

“Yes,” the Chassid answered.

The Rebbe read the kvittel and then repeated the question.

“Is this your son?”

“Yes,” the Chassid confirmed. “These days it is impossible to raise children as in the olden days,” he added.

“I have always wondered,” the Rebbe replied, “that the Torah teaches us about the obligation to write [and wear] tefillin (Devarim 11:18–20): ‘You shall bind for a sign on your arm…,’ and the next passuk tells us the mitzvah of chinuch: ‘You shall teach them to your children…,’ and the following passuk is once again a mitzvah about writing mezuzos: ‘And you shall write them on your doorposts…’

“Why is the mitzvah of chinuch placed between two mitzvos of writing?” the Rebbe asked.

The comment of the Chassid provided an answer, the Rebbe said. The writing of tefillin, mezuzos and sifrei Torah must be precisely according the instructions taught to us by Chazal and, if someone would claim that in “today’s generation it is no longer possible” to write tefillin, mezuzos and sifrei Torah according to the way of Chazal, there is no doubt that the change, even a relatively small one, would render the items passul.

The Torah placed the mitzvah of chinuch between the mitzvos of tefillin and mezuzah, the Belzer Rebbe said, to teach us that when it comes to chinuch, we can’t change an iota of our mesorah and minhagim, and must raise our children solely according the traditions passed down to us throughout the generations from our forefathers and spiritual mentors.

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There is another passuk in this week’s parashah that teaches us an essential lesson about chinuch.

“You should know in your heart that just as a father will chastise his son, so Hashem … chastises you” (8:5). When a person experiences suffering, he must realize that it was sent to him from Shamayim for his benefit. This is similar to a loving father chastising his son out of genuine concern and compassion.

The Rachmastrivka Rebbe, shlita, explains that we must learn from this passuk how we are to rebuke our own children: it must be done solely out of true concern for the benefit of the child, with love and affection, using a soft voice.

One must make certain to only rebuke at a time when the child is prepared and ready to listen and accept what he is being told, and even then it must be done with tact, using parables and a story of a tzaddik that will help the child understand and internalize the message.

The Rachmastrivka Rebbe, shlita, who for many years oversaw the Skverer Mosdos Chinuch, recalls the time his father-in-law, the previous Skverer Rebbe, zy”a, asked him if he ever had occasion to rebuke bachurim in the yeshivah.

When he acknowledged that he did, the Skverer Rebbe asked him how long a rebuke would last.

“About half a minute; at most a minute,” was the reply.

“If you haven’t previously set aside a half hour on the same day or the next day during which you will be mefayes (conciliate) and encourage the bachur, don’t tell him any words of rebuke,” the Skverer Rebbe instructed. (Adapted from the sefer Amaros Tehoros on Devarim.)

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In Parashas Bereishis, the Torah first refers to both the sun and the moon as “meoros hagedolim” — great lights, and then refers to them as the “greater” and “lesser” lights.

Chazal teach us that, originally, the sun and the moon were both equal in size. However, the moon complained to Hashem that “it is impossible for two kings to use the same crown.”

The Ribbono shel Olam responded by instructing the moon to “go and make yourself smaller…”

The moon argued that it was being punished for making a valid argument, and Hashem sought to appease the moon. He created many stars to conciliate it, Klal Yisrael would mark their Yamim Tovim based on calculations on the moon, and tzaddikim would be compared to the moon. Furthermore, “Hakadosh Baruch Hu said, ‘Bring an atonement for Me, for My having reduced the size of the moon,’” and one of the korbanos of Rosh Chodesh is a male goat which is brought as a korban chatas for this purpose.

The concept of “an atonement for Hashem” is beyond our limited scope of understanding. All of Hashem’s ways are just and without a possible fault. Rather, sefarim teach us that it is intended as a lesson for us mortals, that even after we give someone rightful rebuke, we are obligated to try to appease him and conciliate him.