Effective Reproof

Our parsha begins with "אלה הדברים אשר דבר משה…" ("these
are the words which Moshe spoke…") which includes in it the fundamentals of
giving reproof. An analysis of this posuk and its extensions will give us some
guidelines on how to give effective reproof to our children and students.

"אלה הדברים" – ("these words")

This phrase could have been excluded. It’s inclusion stresses
Moshe’s pre-meditated choice of the points of reproof to be mentioned and the
particular way the reproof should be delivered. "Off the cuff" reproof is not in
order. The objective is not simply to voice the reproof, but to have the message
hit home.

Each infringement of Torah or rabbinical law carries
different weight and each individual and each group has a different path to its
reproof-sensory- head quarters. Reproof which misses the mark has no value and
even worse, can lead to its total rejection.

The Sefer Chassidim takes this one step further and
explains that the commandment "…ולא תשא עליו חטא" which comes immediately
after the commandment to reprove a fellow Jew – "הוכיח תוכיח את עמיתך" – teaches
that one should not give reproof with anger and in an embarrassing manner, but
gently and in private at first so that the receiver of the reproof will not
become haughty, stiff-necked and hard-hearted and sin even more than at first.
This is the meaning of ולא תשא עליו חטא – that the one giving reproof should not
bring additional חטא or sin עליו – on the receiver of the reproof. (See Gemora
Erichin 16b.)

Another instance of reproof which generates negative results
is when one reproves an insincere person or one who ridicules others. On this
Shlomo Hamelech states (Mishlei 9:8) "Do not reprove a scoffer lest he come to
hate you." One who ridicules others and their statements distorts and diminishes
the value of every idea or thing which comes his way.

A scoffer is a foolish person whose primary concern is to
maintain his stability and security and who sees any attempt to undermine his
behavior as an attack on his security. This leads to his contempt or hatred of
the one giving reproof. Therefore, reproof will only give him ammunition to fire
back at the one who gives reproof.

On the other hand, explains Shlomo Hamelech (there), a wise
person is defined as one who is eager to receive reproof, for he desires to
improve his spiritual state. When he receives reproof, his love for the
reproof-giver is increased, as he is the agent through which his sins are
cleansed and his ways are purified.

According to this, there are two approaches to achieving
effective reproof. One, to make the recipient of your reproof feel as though you
consider him a wise person, and two, express a love for the person, beyond what
he deserves, so that he will want to listen to your words of reproof. (See
Mishlei 10:12)

Before a person decides to give reproof to others, he must
first and foremost judge whether he himself lives up to the demands he has of
others. Otherwise, his words of reproof will fall on empty ears. And so writes
the Sefer Chasidim (chapter 5), that before reproving others a person
should offer himself reproof in this area and strengthen himself before helping

This is the message Reish Lakish learns from the posuk
"התקושש וקשו…" ("gather yourselves together and assemble…") [Tzefania 2:1]. He
interprets the phrase to mean improve yourselves first and only then try and
help improve others (Gemora Baba Metzia 107b).

We can see this concept alluded to in our posuk. "אלה הדברים
אשר דבר משה…" ("These are the words which Moshe spoke…") If Moshe דבר, did he
not speak דברים? The expression "אלה הדברים" is apparently redundant.

However, "דברים" represents Moshe’s messages, while "דבר משה"
clarifies that Moshe, himself, lived up to the demands he had of others.

There is another message in the repetition of דברים and דבר.
That is, there are two ways of communicating a message or reproof. One, if the
message is of significant value, it can be related even by one of limited
stature. This is represented by דברים. However, a different and also effective
way of transferring a message is to have it told by a highly respected
individual, especially one who has developed a highly effective means of
communication with his audience. Thus, it is beneficial to invite venerable
talmidei chochomim
to deliver mussar or reproof to students, or to
invite one who, although he may know less Torah, has an interesting or inspiring
way of speaking which reaches the student’s hearts.

The personal stature of the one giving reproof is of extreme
importance for the message of reproof is a very personal one. We see, explains
Rav Zalman Sorotzkin z"l in Oznaim Letorah (parshas
1:1), that while many Rabbanim were involved in the teaching of
Torah to Am Yisroel, when Moshe Rabeinu wanted to give reproof to Am Yisroel, he
gathered them all before him alone. Why? For the maximum effect of reproof comes
only when it is heard directly through a heart-to-heart relationship and not
through intermediaries or writings.

Rav Sorotzkin z"l brought a case in point. One well-known
talmid chochom, who had great oratory abilities, was able to inspire and
ignite the hearts of his listeners to improve their ways and grow as Bnei Torah.
From time to time in the middle of his drasha, he would send a chilling
message down the spines and into the hearts of his listeners. This very approach
caused many to do teshuva.

Once he passed away and his drashas were written down
for his followers to read, the great effect of his drashas was limited.

With this in mind, a Rebbe should aspire to carry himself in
a way that will allow him to give effective reproof, and he should be aware of
the great power that lays behind personal reproof.

Look for the conclusion in next week’s MDTW