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Devarim: Respectful Rebuke

In this week’s Parsha, Moshe begins recounting to Klal Yisrael the history of their sojourn in the desert including their ten sins and the places those rebellions against God occurred. The Pasuk (1:1) says, “and these are the words that Moshe spoke… between Paran and Tofel and Lavan and Chatzeros and Di Zahav.” Rashi notes that the words Moshe was about to say would be full of rebuke and list all the places in which the Jewish people sinned. For the sake of the Kavod of Klal Yisrael, the Pasuk is purposely vague about the exact nature of these words. Furthermore, the Sichos Mussar explains that the names of the actual places where the Jewish people sinned are not the ones in the above list; rather, Moshe was alluding to the sins thinly veiled through his words, in order to protect the honor of the Jewish people.

We have much to learn from Moshe’s actions and words in this crucial moment, on the shores of the Yarden. The Jewish people are about to enter Eretz Yisrael after 40 years of wandering in the desert, and Moshe is about to die without ever entering the land, as a result of his actions in response to their complaint about the lack of water– one of the sins hinted to in Moshe’s words. Yet, the Sichos Mussar explains that Moshe’s love for the Jewish people and his keen leadership abilities allowed him to take a step back and recognize that no matter the history and the circumstances, his rebuke must come from that love and be accompanied by the deepest respect for and sensitivity toward their Kavod.

The respect, dignity, and Kavod of our fellow Jews is of paramount importance at all moments, and especially when we must rebuke them or give them constructive criticism. The Sichos Mussar cites the Gemara in Gittin 57a, where R’ Elazar notes that embarrassing and shaming another Jew is so terrible a grievance that Hashem avenged Bar Kamtza’s humiliation by destroying the Beis HaMikdash and punishing the Jewish people. The story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza is infamous and often retold at this time, on the eve of Tisha B’Av, and perhaps this is another reason why we must contemplate this story and its devastating outcome. Such are the dire consequences of disrespecting and embarrassing another Jew under any circumstances.

Of course, honoring and respecting a fellow Jew can be easy when that Jew has traits and attributes we find admirable. When we are rebuking or teaching others to learn from their mistakes, however, doing so in a way that maintains and protects their dignity is not always so simple. As we approach Tisha B’Av, let us try to keep in mind this important lesson and insight. If we are put into a position where feedback is necessary, let us try to do so in a way that is respectful and allows the subject of our rebuke to maintain his or her dignity. First, have the conversation in private, if possible. Furthermore, one way to provide feedback that also honors the receiver is by doing so using what psychologists call a “feedback sandwich;” start with something the person is doing well, or that you really admire about them, something you can praise. Then, provide the constructive criticism or feedback that you set out to give. Finally, end on a good note, noting how they have improved, or what else they do or say or try to do that impresses you.

Our purposeful efforts to honor our fellow Jews under any circumstances, and especially when we the need rises to rebuke or correct another’s actions, can help us to feel and promote more love between Jews. Nothing can be more important during this time than honoring our fellow Jews. Let us all make our best efforts to protect the Kavod and dignity of Klal Yisrael, on a personal and national level, and to honor our fellow Jews as Moshe honored us. Hopefully, in the merit of this important effort, we will dance together this Tisha B’Av in Yerushalayim at the inauguration of the third and final Beis HaMikdash.

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