January 6, 2016, Israel
Rebuke. How we feel the urge to rebuke someone. Why? Because they did something thoughtless and stupid and they deserve it, because what they are doing is wrong.
We are in a hurry, we are desperately searching for a parking spot, and wouldn't you know it! On a busy day, in a crowded place some thoughtless person parked crooked and took up two parking spaces. Had he taken another minute to straighten out his car there would have space for one more person. A fellow citizen would have been able to make it on time to their doctor's appointment. But that did not matter enough to this driver. We are angry, frustrated, we want to tell him off.
It takes the self control of the righteous not to rebuke this person. And that is what is expected of us.
Other times we are not directly affected by the other persons' actions but we feel it is wrong and something should be said. The question is, what is the purpose of the rebuke; to let off steam or to actually help someone improve because we actually care about the person and society.
"Thou shall not hate they brother in thy heart, thou show certainly rebuke your fellow man, but incur no guilt because of him." (Leviticus chapter 19, verse 17)
What this means is roughly...you have an obligation to rebuke and attempt to correct your fellowman but not in a way that will cause him to react in a negative way, thus bringing built upon yourself. The rebuke should bring positive change, not anger. Do not shame him. The goal must be to correct him, not to humiliate him. Do not let anger linger in your heart. Some say it means incur no guilt because of failure to rebuke him. I.e. If you see him doing something wrong you must correct him, otherwise you are guilty; guilty for not acting.
לֹא תִשְׂנָא אֶת-אָחִיךָ בִּלְבָבֶךָ הוֹכֵחַ תּוֹכִיחַ אֶת-עֲמִיתֶךָ ולֹא-תִשָּׂא עָלָיו חֵטְא
But lets' take a closer look at this verse. It starts off with thou shall not hate him in your heart, so do not keep it inside, that is certainly not healthy, we must give voice to our frustration and surely rebuke him. Letting the matter continue this way is certainly not correct. After all we do not want him going through life thinking he can do whatever he wants, never take others into consideration and think it is OK!
On the plane, someone walks on with some hot and spicy Indian or Chinese food. Lets' think about that for a minute, shall we?
An aircraft, we are stuck in there together for a few hours. There is no fresh air, only recycled air. So this person brings on board spicy smelly food. We all have to sit there and smell all those sharp exotic odors. Why couldn't' this person enjoy their meal in the airport restaurants? Was it a lack of time? Couldn't they arrive a few minutes early? or if not, how about a less pungent smelling dinner? or take an energy bar and hold out for a couple of hours?
Clearly these people have never actually stopped to think about how their actions might affect others. This is called thoughtlessness.
But yet we are also warned that to rebuke a fool is pointless.
( אַל תּוֹכַח לֵץ, פֶּן יִשְׂנָאֶךָּ, הוֹכַח לְחָכָם וְיֶאֱהָבֶךָּ (משלי ט, 8
"Do not rebuke the fool less he come to hate you. Rebuke the wise and he shall love you. (Proverbs, chapter 9, verse 8).
One must know how to control one's feelings. There is a way to rebuke so that the correct result is achieved. And yet we are warned that no matter how tactful one may be some people will never accept rebuke, they will simply hate you. Other methods must be found with such people.
But a great deal, a great share, rests with the receiver. How we receive rebuke depends upon us to a great extent. Are we open to hearing something valid,even if it is painful to hear? Can we admit we have room to improve? Perhaps our rebuker was tactless, perhaps thoughtless, but perhaps still had a valid point. Rebuke the wise and they shall love you.
We must be wise.
My mother had five aunts, and one uncle. Uncle Philip died young. The family came from Poland to the United States, the land of opportunity. My great grandfather passed away leaving a wife and the six children. It was during the Great Depression. They did not receive government benefits, all worked hard. My grandmother worked two jobs and lived on a few fig-newtons a day. All the earnings were collected by my great grandmother and she as the matriarch distributed the funds as she saw fit. That is how a family works.
All hopes were pinned on Philip, for Philip would become a doctor. The family scrimped and saved, "We need the money for Philips' medical education, once he becomes a doctor things will be better. Now we save."
And indeed that glorious day came and Philip became a doctor. He opened a practice, one of his sisters became his secretary. and then tragedy struck. Philip, as a doctor, knew he was going to die. His mother, my great grand mother, went berserk. She prayed, she went to the synagogue and gave charity, she recited the Psalms, but to no avail. The evil decree could not be averted and he died. The family was devastated.
My great grandmother could not pull herself together. She never left the house other than to go to the synagogue or food shopping. She wore only black, the clothing of mourning. She sat at the window stoop...Gott in himmel, nem mir tzu mein sohn, (Yiddish, take me to my son, God in heaven).
And then, more trouble. Her youngest daughter, my aunt, was attacked and badly beaten. She was taken to the hospital. Of course her mother went at once to see her, dressed as always in black. She cried, do not take my baby away, and then came the rebuke. Another woman said, "Mrs. Levine, God is punishing you. Our tradition says you do not mourn so much for one child. You have other children who need you. God is punishing you for mourning too much! You have neglected your other children."
This was harsh rebuke indeed! A woman lost her son, her youngest daughter is in the hospital unconscious and another woman tells her it is a punishment from God!?
How does one respond to this accusation? to the idea that divine punishment has just been inflicted upon you for wrong behavior?
My great grandmother, of blessed memory, fully accepted this harsh rebuke. She took off her black clothing and returned to life, to be a mother to the other children.
I cannot imagine what she felt when she heard this rebuke, and this poor woman accepted this harsh judgement. No anger, no counter attack, just calm acceptance.
What a lesson from my great grand mother of blessed memory!
The path to learning, to self improvement, to true growth is to accept the kind rebuke from others. The wise shall love the rebuke. Be wise.