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Counting the Omer with

Day 36 — Not Taking Joy in Handing Down Rulings

Eino Sameiach b’Hora’a • אינו שמח בהוראה

By Rabbi Barry H. Block, Little Rock, AR

David and Galit Gottlieb, in honor of Galit's recent birthday<br>Chicago, Illinois
David and Galit Gottlieb, in honor of Galit's recent birthday
Chicago, IL

Most of us are not in the business of handing down rulings. At least, we think we’re not.

Looking more closely, though, we may confess that we do tell others what we think about their behavior from time to time. After all, Torah commands that we express judgment for the good of other people: “You shall surely rebuke your neighbor and incur no sin because of this other person” (Leviticus 19:17). When a trusted friend has found the right way to tell me lovingly how I could have handled a situation better, or where I’ve missed the mark, I have sought t’shuvah — repentance, changing my ways — and become a better person.

Rebuke is so important that we who practice Mussar may call it a middah, a critical trait of our souls. Like all middot, though, we can fall out of balance in our practice of reproof. Nearly two millennia have passed since Rabbi Akiva observed, “In this generation, nobody knows how a rebuke ought to be worded” (Sifra 89b). Akiva’s words are as true in the 21st Century as they were in the 2nd. Most of the time, when we critique another’s behavior, we do so in anger. We add more heat than light. We enjoy moral superiority, perceiving that we know better than the person we rebuke. The 18th Century Mussar Master, Ramchal, therefore cautioned: “How often does a person rebuke sinners at the wrong time, or in the wrong place … The rebuke is thus the cause of their becoming more confirmed in their wickedness … In a case of this kind, it is the part of saintliness to remain silent” (Mesilat Yesharim, Chapter 20).

If we’re having fun when we’re rebuking another, or even making ourselves feel better, we would do well to remain silent, at least until we find a better time and a better place, for ourselves and for the person we seek to help with our judgment.

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