The Key to Effective Criticism

Havu lachem anashim chachamim u’nevonim vi’duim l’shivteichem va’asimeim b’rosheichem (Devarim 1:13)

The book of Devarim begins with Moshe’s review of the 40-year national history from the time of the Exodus until the present. Much of Parashas Devarim revolves around Moshe’s rebuke of the Jewish nation for sins they committed during this period, in an attempt to ensure that they wouldn’t continue in these mistaken ways. It is curious to note that in our verse, Moshe seems to digress from his chastisement to stress that the Jewish people are distinguished, wise and understanding. Why did he interrupt his focus on reproaching the people with this point, which is hardly a message of rebuke?

Shlomo Hamelech writes in Mishlei (9:8): “Do not reprimand a scoffer lest he hate you; reprove a wise man and he will love you.” Why would the wise Shlomo advise rebuking a person who seemingly shouldn’t need it and ignoring a scoffer whose ways need correcting?

The Shelah Hakadosh suggests that the erudite Shlomo is actually talking about only one person. The Torah obligates (Vayikra 19:17) a person who sees another Jew engaged in inappropriate activities to rebuke him and attempt to inspire him to change his ways and return to the proper path. In order to do so successfully, a bit of wisdom is required. Shlomo Hamelech advises that talking condescendingly to the scoffer will be useless and cause him to hate the one attempting to reprove him. Talking to him as if he is wise and respectable will likely move the sinner to accept his words and love him for caring about him and coming to his assistance.

A modern-day application of this lesson is offered by Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski. He writes that when growing up, he was a typical child who got into his share of trouble. However, his father taught him a priceless lesson in how to raise well-adjusted children by the manner in which he rebuked him. All too often we hear parents screaming at their children, “You good-for-nothing! How could you have been so foolish and lazy?” A child who grows up repeatedly hearing this message slowly absorbs the belief that he truly is foolish and lazy. Not surprisingly, he will likely go on to make decisions in life that reflect this self-image.

Rabbi Twerski’s father, on the other hand, used to scold his children in Yiddish, “Es past nisht — what you did isn’t appropriate for somebody as wonderful and special as you!” The message that was constantly driven into him was that he was an amazing child with tremendous potential who simply needed to maintain his focus on channeling his energy properly. This surely contributed to his success in life.

With this introduction, the Shelah Hakadosh explains that before fully launching into his criticism of the Jewish People, Moshe first built them up by emphasizing their many good qualities and tremendous potential, which would in turn allow his message to be well received. The lesson for us is clear: whenever we may need to correct a family member, friend, or co-worker, we should do so in the wise and proven manner taught to us by Moshe Rabbeinu and Shlomo Hamelech.

Parashah Q & A
Q: Rashi writes (1:17) that if a judge has a case involving a small amount of money in front of him and another case comes up involving a much larger amount of money, he may not give precedence to the case involving more money, but must hear and rule on the cases in the order in which they were presented to him. Is it forbidden to cut in a line, and if so, what is the source of the prohibition?
Q:  Rashi writes (2:17) that for the duration of the 38-year period in which the Jewish nation was in Divine disfavor due to the sin of the spies, Hashem didn’t speak to Moshe in the manner in which He was accustomed. Did Hashem communicate with Moshe at all during this time, and if so, in what fashion did He do so?
A:  Harav Aharon Leib Steinman, shlita, notes that the Shulchan Aruch rules that if two people die in the same city, the one who died first should be buried first. As far as cutting in line, the Chazon Ish was asked what prohibition is transgressed by one who does so, and he responded that such a person is violating the accepted way of the world, which has agreed upon such rules to establish order.
A: Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com. Rashi writes (Taanis 30b) that Hashem spoke to Moshe during this period, although His messages weren’t conveyed in a loving and direct manner, but rather through nightly visions. The Rashbam (Bava Basra 121b) also suggests that the communication was regular but through indirect means, such as an angel. Alternatively, he writes that Hashem only spoke to Moshe during this time when an incident occurred that required Divine intervention. Rabbeinu Bechaye maintains that Moshe continued to receive prophecies during this time, but they were conveyed to him with the imperfect clarity that other prophets received, as opposed to the absolute clearness which Moshe had been accustomed to receiving.


 

Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.