“Let me tell you what you did wrong” - Parshat Devarim

Over the past few days, in several conversations touching on very different topics, the idea of giving rebuke has come up.  It is a timely conversation as this week’s Parsha as well as the Haftorah, and the book of Eicha which we read on the coming fast day of Tisha B’av are all full of rebukes.  G-d tells us what we did wrong, Moshe tells us what we did wrong, Isiah tells us what we did wrong and Eicha is almost  nothing but rebuke.

Giving rebuke.

There is a Halachic (Jewish law) requirement to rebuke our neighbor when they commit a wrong.  (Rambam , Mishneh Torah,  Chapter 6, halacha 7).   The law comes from Leviticus 19: 17:




Rebuke in the posek above refers to two forms of rebuke. One is when one feels personally offended; Joseph made a joke that upset Judith.  If Judith isn’t able to dismiss the hurt she should speak to Joseph, explaining, gently, how she was hurt and why. If Joseph apologizes, then Judith should accept the apology.  The important thing is to get rid of the anger, so one doesn’t “hate one’s brother in one’s heart.” 

The second type of rebuke is where one sees a neighbor having committed a sin.  It is important to note that before even beginning to rebuke one’s fellow for a sin one must know absolutely that the other person’s act is in fact a sin.  Often what we think is a sin is actually a different opinion on the law. There have been times in my own life where I have declared, during the course of a discussion that “everyone knows this or that is assur (forbidden) only to be told “there is an opinion…”.   Before even considering stating something to another person find out if your understanding of the law is correct, or if there are alternative responses. If you are unable to do so, at the very least add a disclaimer “according to what I learned”; then be willing to accept an answer “I learned otherwise.”


Rebuke also must come from a place of love.  Jews are responsible for each other.  One of the sins that caused the destruction of the second beis Hamikdash was the leaders remained quiet while others perverted the laws of justice. 



As Jews we must see ourselves as connected to each other, so that the hurt of one is a hurt to all Jews. We are one nation, one people, under one G-d.  Unity is our goal. Rebuke must come from the feeling that “I love you so much that I do not want to see you do something which will bring harm to you.” Condescension and selfishness have no part in a rebuke. The start is love, and that love must be felt by the other person. It is not enough to declare “I’m doing it from love,” the other person must feel that love, they must understand it within them. 

We can learn from Moshe. How did Moshe begin his rebuke of b’nei Yisrael (the children of Israel)?  Here is the first posek  in this week’s Torah reading, along with the Rashi.



As can be seen from above Moshe was very careful in talking to b’nei Yisrael about their sins. He spoke with gentleness, alluding to their wrong-doing, rather than stating the sins straight out.  He spoke with love.  His goal was not to shame the people of Israel it was to cause them to return and keep on the path of righteousness.  His emotional pain was for their sake, not his. This is achdut- unity, and achva-love.

We, none of us who are anywhere near the level of Moshe Rabbeinu, who spoke to Hashem (G-d) face to face, must emulate Moshe’s stance. We must speak with caring and love, lest we cause our fellow Jew pain and suffering, which may drive them further from Torah and G-d. We need to actively listen to their response, understanding where they are coming from, what they are feeling, so we may modify our own words so they can best understand what we are conveying. 

In closing keep in mind the comment that Rabbi Tarfon made on rebuke: “If he said to him take out the speck between your eyes, the other person will respond take the beam out of yours.” (4) We must put ourselves in order as well, for none of us are free from wrongdoing. We must see our fellow Jew as part of ourselves, to judge them in the same way that we wish to be judged, for they are part of us.

May we all be worthy to greet the Moshiach, speedily with in our days.

(4) Eruchin 16b


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