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Torah Attitude: Parashas Vayeitzei: Love then rebuke
Jacob reproved the shepherds in Charan. By referring to them as brothers, Jacob made himself an equal; therefore, the shepherds had no problem discussing 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 we rebuke a fellow Jew, we must make sure we have no personal animosity against that person. A person who rebukes his fellow, in the correct way, 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, he must do it in such a way that they feel that he is their friend who cares about them and their patron who looks after them. "A father is able to guide his children, even if they have a difference of opinion, for in general 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, as the children are transforming into young adults, they test 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 one." Educators must make sure to convey that we can all make mistakes, and that they reprove out of love and concern.
Jacob reproved the shepherds
In this week's parasha, the Torah relates 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, for they needed all of the shepherds to move the heavy stone on top of the well. This 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.
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 wisecrack who looked down upon these simple shepherds and wanted to teach them how to conduct themselves. By referring to them as brothers, he made himself an equal; therefore, 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 we should give rebuke to our fellow Jew. It says in Parashas Kedoshim (Vayikra 19:17): "You shall reprove your fellow." This, 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 points out that this commandment is written amongst commandments regarding man and his fellow Jew and not amongst obligations between man and G'd.
Rav Kamenetsky continues to explain that when one reproves, one must show how much one cares about 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 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 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 we are able to rebuke our fellow Jew, we must make sure that we have no personal animosity against that person. Only then are we ready to fulfill the Torah obligation to reprove. Otherwise, the actual rebuke would be considered a sin.
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 concern 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." Our sole concern should be to help the other person to do right, but in no way to offend him or put him to shame.
Rabbeinu Yonah (Shaarei Teshuva 1:18) explains that a righteous person will praise and honour people for their good qualities, whereas a wicked person will look for their shortcomings and mistakes to put them down. Even if one has to rebuke someone, the righteous person will at the same time try to boost the other person rather than to break him or make him feel inadequate.
The Torah's instruction of how to give rebuke does not only apply to situations where one rebukes adults. The same applies to parents and teachers who must be very careful when they rebuke 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". The Rebbe of Kotzk points out that what Rashi explains here defines how a father should assist his children. This is especially important when he rebukes them. He must ensure that they feel that he is their true friend, who only has their benefit in mind, and their patron who will do his utmost to take care of all their needs.
Moses and the complainers
We find the same idea expressed in Parashas Beha'aloscha, where the Torah relates that the Jewish people complained many times. At one point, they asked (Bamidbar 11:4): "Who will feed us meat." This was totally inappropriate, as they received manna every day. When Moses saw how they kept complaining, and that G'd was getting angry, 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? On this the Sforno comments, "A father is able to lead his children, even if they have a difference of opinion. For 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."
Testing the boundaries
In every situation, parents must convey their unconditional love for their children 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 the children feel that they do so only out of love and concern for them. This is a relatively easy job when our children are young, and when we 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 necessarily trusted by their students in the same way that children trust their parents. Teachers must therefore first develop a true love and concern for their students. Only then can they educate and rebuke their students properly. Children are very sensitive and will feel whether the rebuke was out of love and concern, or just to cut them down. The Talmud (Sotah 47a) teaches a most important lesson for educators: "One should always push away with the left hand and bring close with the right hand." The right hand is generally described as the stronger one, 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 if an educator is excessively strict, and pushes away with both hands, he will eventually lose the child.
On the other hand, it is not good to give the child too much freedom either. Even the children themselves appreciate when they are given boundaries. We must be there for them, show them their restrictions, and teach them how to conduct themselves. The secret to successful education is to combine the right and left hand. As educators, we shall never lower ourselves to be equals to the ones we are educating; but we must make sure to convey that we can all make mistakes, and that when we reprove, we do so only out of love and concern.
These words were based on notes of Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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