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Torah Attitude: Parashas Vayeitzei: Love and rebuke

Summary

Jacob reproved the shepherds in Charan. By referring to them as brothers, Jacob made himself an equal and as such the shepherds had no problem discussing with him the best and most correct way to tend to their animals. Rav Kamenetsky explains that one should give rebuke out of care and concern. "Whoever has the ability to reprove and does not do so, he is considered responsible for the other person's transgression." Before one is able to give rebuke to a fellow Jew, one must make sure one has no personal hatred or animosity against that person. A person who rebukes his fellow expresses more love for that person than the one who keeps quiet. Rabbeinu Yonah explains that the righteous will praise and honour other people for all their good qualities, whereas the wicked will look for other people's shortcomings and mistakes to put them down. When a father rebukes his children they have to feel that he is their friend who cares about them and their patron who looks after them. "A father is able to lead his children, even if they have a difference of opinion, as the children feel that their father loves them and will try with all his might to do what is good for them." Throughout the difficult teenage years when the children are transforming into young adults, they are testing the boundaries of their rights and abilities. "One should always conduct oneself to push away with the left hand and bring close with the right hand." Educators must make sure to convey that as human beings we can all make mistakes, and that when they reprove it is done so out of brotherly love and concern.

Jacob reproved the shepherds

In this week's Torah portion it is related how Jacob left his parents' home and went to stay with his uncle Lavan in Charan. When he arrived in Charan, he saw a group of shepherds with their flocks at a well. Jacob felt that the shepherds conduct was wrong. He reproved them and said (Bereishis 29:7): "The day is still long. It is not yet time to gather the livestock. Water your flocks and go and grace." The shepherds replied that they were not able to water their animals until all the shepherds had gathered. They explained that it required all of the shepherds' participation to move the heavy stone on top of the well. This conversation seems very strange. Jacob just arrived as a complete stranger to Charan and starts instructing the local shepherds how they ought to go about their business. We would expect the shepherds to answer back and tell him, "Who are you to tell us what to do?" However, the shepherds very respectfully explained why they were conducting themselves in this manner.

Jacob's approach

The great Rosh Yeshiva of Mesivta Torah Vodaath, Rav Yacov Kamenetsky, explains that Jacob's ability to reprove total strangers stemmed from his initial introduction as he approached them and said (Bereishis 29:4), "My brothers, where are you from?" Jacob did not come across as a wise person who knows everything, who came to teach these simple shepherds how to conduct themselves. By referring to them as brothers, he made himself an equal and as such they had no problem discussing with him the best and most correct way to tend to their animals.

Care and concern

Rav Kamenetsky elaborates on this and explains that this is the way one should fulfill the commandment of giving rebuke to one's fellow Jew. In Parashas Kedoshim (Vayikra 19:17) the Torah instructs us and says, "You shall reprove your fellow." This commandment, says Rav Kamenetsky, does not obligate us to act as G'd's policemen. Rather, it instructs us to care about our fellow Jews and be concerned that they do what is right. He proves this from the fact that this commandment is written amongst commandments regarding man and his fellow Jew and not amongst obligations between man and G'd.

Considered responsible

Rav Kamenetsky continues that when one reproves one must exhibit one's care and concern for the other person. As the Rambam writes (The Laws of Proper Conduct 6:7), "The one who reproves his fellow he shall do so in private and speak to him calmly and in a soft voice .He shall let him know that he is only saying this to him for his benefit And whoever has the ability to reprove and does not do so, he is considered responsible for the other person's transgression."

No hatred or animosity

With this insight we can understand why the Torah, in the very same verse, prefaces the obligation to reprove our fellow with the commandment not to hate another person. As it says (Vayikra 19:17), "You shall not hate your brother in your heart; you shall reprove your fellow and do not bear a sin because of him." Before one is able to give rebuke to a fellow Jew, one must make sure that one has no personal hatred or animosity against that person. Only then is one ready to fulfill the Torah obligation to reprove. Otherwise, the actual rebuke would be considered a sin.

Open rebuke

This is what King Solomon says (Mishlei 27:5), "Open rebuke is better than hidden love." The Vilna Gaon (Commentary on Mishlei) explains this on a simple level. A person who rebukes his fellow expresses more love for that person than the one who keeps quiet, as it shows his concerns and feelings for the other person. The Metzudas David (ibid) gives us a deeper insight into this verse. He explains that even if one needs to rebuke someone in public, it should be based on a deep, hidden love for that person. According to this interpretation the verse reads "Open rebuke is only good when it stems from hidden love." The sole concern should be to help the other person to do right, but in no way to offend him or put him to shame.

Righteous praise

Rabbeinu Yonah (Shaarei Teshuva 1:18) explains that the righteous will praise and honour other people for all their good qualities, whereas the wicked will look for other people's shortcomings and mistakes to put them down. Even when one has to rebuke someone, the righteous person will at the same instance try to boost the other person rather than to break him or make him feel inadequate.

Fatherly rebuke

The Torah's instruction of how to give rebuke does not only apply to rabbis who are required to rebuke their congregants or to friends or other adults giving rebuke to each other. The same principles apply to educators. Both parents and teachers must take the utmost care when they educate their charges. When Joseph revealed himself to his brothers in Egypt, he instructed them to go back to Jacob and tell him of his whereabouts. He further said (Bereishis 45:8), "And now, it is not you who sent me here but G'd. And He has made me a father to Pharaoh." Rashi explains that the word "father" means "a friend and a patron". Says the great Chassidic Rebbe of Kotzk, Rashi here defines what a father should be to his children. This is especially important when he gives rebuke to his children. He must ensure that they feel that he is their true friend who constantly cares about them and their patron who looks after them all the time, and that he only has their benefit in mind.

Moses and the complainers

We find the same idea expressed during the Jewish peoples wandering in the wilderness. They were a stiff-necked people who many times challenged their leader, Moses. In Parashas Beha'aloscha it is related how they complained several times and amongst other complaints asked (Bamidbar 11:4),"Who will feed us meat." This was totally inappropriate as the Torah continues to relate how they were fed with the miraculous manna on a daily basis. When Moses heard all their complaints and saw how G'd was getting angry at the people, he said to G'd (Bamidbar 11:12), "Why have You done evil to your servant that You place the burden of this entire people on me? Did I conceive this entire people or did I give birth to it? That You say to me, carry it in your bosom as a nursing mother carries a suckling." On this the Sforno comments, "A father is able to lead his children, even if they have a difference of opinion, as the children feel that their father loves them and will try with all his might to do what is good for them. However, these people who complain all the time do not trust me [says Moses], and they constantly suspect me and test me to see how I will act on their behalf."

Testing the boundaries

In every situation, parents must convey their unconditional love and care for their children in order to create an environment of trust and harmony in their home. Even when they have to rebuke and punish their children it must be done in such a way that their children feel that this is being done solely out of love and concern for them. This is a relatively easy job when the children are young and when one can readily excuse them for their immature wrongdoings and misconduct. However, it is crucial to continue with this approach throughout the difficult teenage years, when the children are transforming into young adults, and begin testing the boundaries of their rights and abilities.

Push away with left, bring close with right

This is even more of a challenge for teachers who are not automatically trusted by their students in the same way that children trust their parents. Teachers must first of all develop a true love and concern for their students. Only then can they educate and rebuke their students properly. Children have a very accurate sensitivity to feel if the rebuke they received was out of love and concern or just to cut them down. The Talmud (Sotah 47a) has a most important lesson for educators: "One should always conduct oneself to push away with the left hand and bring close with the right hand." The right hand is generally described as the stronger hand, and as such the Talmud teaches that in every given situation an educator must show his charge more love than strictness. The Talmud continues to explain that excessive strictness, by pushing away with both hands, will eventually cause that one loses the child.

Emulate Jacob

On the other hand, no one is served by giving the child too much freedom either. Even the children themselves appreciate when they are given boundaries showing them their restrictions and teaching them how to conduct themselves. The secret to successful education is to combine and use both the right and left hand together. And when one needs to give rebuke, one must remember to emulate Jacob. Educators should never lower themselves to be equals to the ones they are educating; but they must make sure to convey that as human beings, we can all make mistakes, and that when they reprove it is done out of brotherly love and concern.

These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.


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