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August 08, 1986 - Image 42

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1986-08-08

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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42

Friday, August 8, 1986

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

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The Moral Function
Of Criticism In Tradition



RABBI MORTON F. YOLKUT

Special to The Jewish News

I

t may come as a suprise to

some of us that criticism is
not only regarded as a virtue
by Judaism, but is included as a
Biblical commandment, one of
the 613 mitzvot. "Thou shalt not
hate thy. brother in thy heart,
thou shalt surely rebuke thy
neighbor — and not bear sin
because of him" (Leviticus
19:17).
The Torah teaches that the
inevitable criticism we have of
others needs to be expressed. It
is better for them and for us to
express these criticisms and ar-
ticulate the rebuke and thereby
prevent all of society from fal-
ling into the sin of bearing col-
lective resentment.
Indeed, not only is criticism
one of the important command-
ments, but it is one of the main
functions of our religion. Torah
was meant to raise our ideals,
values and practices to an ever
high level. This it does by serv-
ing as our critic by focusing at-
tention on the distance between
the ideal and the real, by reve-
aling to us our imperfections
and thus urging us to strive for
the perfect.
Moses and Baalam were both
prophets. They lived at the same
time and preached to the same
people of Israel. Moses was inci-
sive and often merciless in his
criticism of his people. In this
week's sidrah we are told that
Moses began his farewell dis-
course to the Jewish people with
the admonishment, "How can I
alone bear your troubleness, and
your burden, and your strife?"
(Deuteronomy 1:12). He re-
minded his people of their
shortcomings and failings and
called them to task time and
again.
Balaam, the Gentile prophet,
spoke only kind words to the
people. He hailed them, com-
plimented them, blessed them,
flattered them. While Moses be-
rated them as stubborn and 'con-
tentious, Balaam greeted them
with Mah Tovu — "How goodly
are thy tents, 0 Jacob" (Num-
bers 24:5).
In retrospect, however, Moses
is the archetype of the navi
haemet, the true prophet, while
Balaam is the navi hasheker,
the prophet of falsehood. Moses
who criticized is truly a prophet;
Balaam who did not is merely a
soothsayer. At the time Moses
spoke, our ancestors may have
felt offended by his scathing re-
marks. Yet the judgment of his-
tory was- reverence for the pro-
phet and critic and condemna-
tion for the soothsayer and
propagandist.
What Moses was to his gener-
ation, the Torah of Moses must
be to every generation, includ-
ing and especially our own.
When religion begins to do noth-
ing. more than calm us, soothe
us and sanctify our status quo,

Morton F. Yolkut is rabbi at
Cong. B'nai David.

it is no longer religion. It is
Balaam's trademark. It is when
religion fails to criticize that it
deserves to be criticized itself.
That is why the pulpit too
must not only be a source of in-
spiration and education, but
even more so: criticism. If our
Jewish and human imperfec-
tions are hidden behind a veil of
innocuous platitudes, then the
voice of Torah has been silenced.
The great Talmudic sage Abaya
once remarked that if a rabbi is
beloved by his people it is often
not so much because of his
superiority as because of the
fact that he diplomatically ref-
rains from every kind of criti-
cism (Ketubot 105b).
One final point, the most im-
portant, remains to be made.
Until now we have dealt with

Devarim

Shabbat Chazon:

Deuteronomy
1:1-3:22
Isaiah 1:1-27

the criticism of others. Yet this
is only the prelude to the most
difficult art of all — criticism of
one's self. How does one go
about reproaching one's self?
The great founder of
Hasidism, Israel Baal Shem
Tov, taught that you arrive at
self criticism through your criti-
cism of others. When you look
into a mirror, the Baal Shem
says, you see all your own faults
and deficiencies — the shape of
your nose, the complexion of
your skin, the size of your teeth.
So, when you look at your fellow
man and notice his faults, treat
him like a mirror, and recognize
in him your own faults.
The wise man sees the faults
of others and then knows he has
them himself and proceeds to
correct them. He holds up the
personality of his friends as a
mirror of his own. Criticism of
others, if taken in the proper
spirit, leads to self criticism.
"Who shall ascend the moun-
tain of God, and who shall stand
in his holy place? He that has
clean hands and a pure heart
..." (Psalms 24:3-4). How are
hands cleaned and hearts
purified? With criticism and self
criticism.

Bronfman Gets
Brandeis Award

New York — Edgar M.
Bronfman, president of the
World Jewish Congress, will be
presented with the Justice Louis
D. Brandeis Award at the 85th
National Convention of the
Zionist Organization of America,
to be held Sept. 25-28 at the
Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel in

Baltimore.
Close to 1000 ZOA delegates
from across the U.S. are ex-
pected to attend.

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