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At the end of this week's parashah, we learn that Miriam and Aharon, Moshe's older sister and brother, spoke lashon hara (slander) against him because they misunderstood his actions. Hashem was very angry at them as it says (Bemidbar 12:9), "The wrath of Hashem flared up against them, and He left." Before punishing Miriam, who had initiated the conversation, Hashem chastised both of them for their sin. He prefaced His reprimand with the following: "Hear, I beg you, My words" (Ibid. 6). Rashi comments that the Hebrew word na, is a term of supplication: "I beg you." The Sifsei Chachamim offers a fantastic explanation of Rashi's words: "This comes to teach us that even though Hashem was very angry at them, he spoke to them softly, otherwise, had he spoken to them with anger, they would not have accepted his reprimand. How much more so should a man of flesh and blood learn from this that he should always speak softly."

I once heard a rabbi speaking on Israeli radio about this mind boggling Sifsei Chachamim. He pointed out that, on the receiving end, we are talking about two of the greatest tzaddikim there ever were, Miriam and Aharon. And, on the giving end, we are talking about the Almighty Himself. Even so, had Hashem not spoken softly, they would not have accepted his reprimand! Because so is the nature of man. The wisest of men, King Shlomo, said (Mishlei 15:1), "A soft answer turns away wrath; but grievous words stir up anger." It makes no difference who is speaking or who is listening. If the words are said grievously, they are angrily rejected. On the contrary, "The words of wise men are heard in quiet, more than the shouting of him who rules among fools" (Koheles 9:17).

I read in a book about proper child rearing (I don't remember which), why we fail as parents. One of the reasons is our lack of understanding how to reprimand our children properly. Everyone understands, the author writes, that a parent should not fly off the handle at the time of the incident; when he or she is totally out of control. But let's say that a parent is smart enough to hold it in at that moment. Then what? When should he bring it up again? When the child is well behaved and the family is enjoying themselves on a boating trip? He certainly doesn't want to ruin a good atmosphere by being angry and rehashing something which happened a while ago. So what does he do? He waits until the time the child does something wrong and he cannot hold back, and then he throws in all of his grievances from all of the previous incidents. This approach is definitely doomed to failure.

The source of the problem, however, is that we have a totally wrong attitude towards reprimand. We think that it constitutes bawling out the wrongdoer and putting him or her in place. Consequently, the proper atmosphere for such an ordeal is when things are sour anyway. However, if we would only understand that reprimand is really supposed to be an expression of total love; something that we share with the person we adore in order to help him or her become a better person, then we would remain perfectly calm as we help them recognize their faults. And we would do it specifically at a time when feelings are warm for each other. Because if we were to handle it properly, then the receiver would also feel good about it and would actually thank us for our concern rather than resent our criticism. The result would be a tranquil parent-child relationship which would ensure both of them a happy life, full of nachas and mutual respect.

That is the lesson in life the Torah wants to teach us this week. And if we will follow this sound advice, as hard as it may seem, we will be truly happy, in this world and in the World-to-Come.

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel