Halacha » The Mitzvah of Rebuke and Its Purpose

The Mitzvah of Rebuke and Its Purpose

Sefer Devarim is known as the book of rebuke, as the root of the word “Devarim” is davar which Chazal teach us refers to harsh speech. Moshe Rabbenu gave this rebuke during the last month of his life, which Rashi explains was for their own honor; so as not to embarrass them. Furthermore, when initiating the rebuke, we find that Moshe Rabbenu didn’t openly rebuke them– rather his rebuke was only through hinting to what they did wrong as is stated “Bamidbar, b’Aravah, Mol Suf…”.[1] R”Chaim Shmulevitz (Sichot Mussar CH 88) comments that anything that is understandable through hinting must have been known to all (otherwise how would the hint have helped).

Rashi further explains that Moshe Rabbenu learned that he should wait until close to his death before rebuking from Yaakov Avinu, who only rebuked Reuven before his death (Bereshit 49, 3-4), and why did Yaakov Aveinu wait so long? For he was worried that if he would have rebuked him earlier, Reuven would have left him and gone to Esav Harashah!! What a frightening statement. Reuven, the one who ran to save his brother from the pit, who fasted all his life, was in danger of leaving Yaakov and the shevatim for Esav Harashah had he been rebuked earlier?! Would he not have accepted the rebuke from his father?[2]

Rather, we must understand that the purpose of rebuke to is so that the recipient recognizes his error, thus ensuring his action not be repeated. To convey this, one must be careful to think of the honor of the one receiving the rebuke. It is from this aspect and this aspect alone will one be successful. As when the recipient sees the thought put into the rebuke, he feels that it is from love that he is being reproached and that this is for his betterment. It is for this reason that not only did Moshe Rabbenu wait until the end of his life before rebuking Am Yisrael, but he likewise words only hinted to their sins[3] in his opening statement. Through such an approach to reproach, they would be more willing to accept it and strengthen themselves prior to entering Eretz Yisrael and withstand any new tests that may befall them.

If Moshe Rabbenu learned such a lesson from Yaakov Avinu, how much more so must we learn from them, especially when it comes to reprimanding our children. It must be done with the utmost care and with their honor in mind, they must feel the love of their parents. If Yaakov Avinu was worried about Reuven going to Esav (however remote the possibility), despite the fact that he was constantly surrounded by the kedushah of his family growing up in the home of Yaakov Avinu, in today’s day and age, where it is almost impossible to escape the tumah of Esav, it goes without saying that we must be extra careful.

There was once a child who was a little rambunctious, who got into a fight with another kid in school. The principal punished the child by giving him detention, and, unbeknownst to the child, also phoned the child’s father. When the boy came home, the father inquired of his son as to why he was late, to which the child merely said that he had missed the bus. The father didn’t press further, and spoke with his son normally as he would on any given day, not wanting to let him think he knew what happened in school.

On the second Shabbat after the incident, the father mentioned by the Shabbat table “I heard that two boys were fighting and one hit the other”, at which point the boy stopped eating for a moment; and then, to the boy’s relief, the father finished by saying “I’m so happy that we have such a good boy, I feel bad for that other boy and his parents, I hope he doesn’t do that again.” and continued eating. The boy, since then ensured that he was going to be the good boy his father thought of him; he would not disappoint his father. This was only due to the foresight and caring of the father, who took to consideration the honor of his son, to accomplish the purpose of rebuke.

Chazal tell us “smol docheh v’yamin mekarev” (with the left hand one pushes the person away and with the right brings them closer). However, when bringing closer with the right hand one MUST make the person feel love. That is why in this generation “yamin mekarev” means with both hands, hugging the child, showing them love and care alongside the reproof. Through this method, along with constant prayer, B”H will our children grow up to be Tsaddikim and Tsadkaniyot, Amen.

Shabbat Shalom

[1] see Rashi there

[2] See also Shabbat 55b

[3] as Rashi stated “for their Honor”