June 2, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
June 2, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Orphaned of both parents at a young age, Reb Yehudah Leib Alter was raised by his grandparents, Rebbetzin Feige and Rebbe Yitzchak Meir—the Chidushei HaRim—the first Gerer Rebbe. With the untimely passing of Reb Yehuda Leib’s father, attention turned toward Reb Yehudah Leib, with the intention that the child prodigy would one day be a successor. He would, indeed, grow up to become the next rebbe, and authored the universally acclaimed sefer Sefas Emes.

The Chidushei HaRim himself focused his efforts on his grandson, expecting great levels of hasmadah and avodah from the child, including rising at dawn to study Torah before davening. One time—engrossed in his learning—the young Yehuda Leib had stayed up all night in the beis medrash, and finally laid down to rest shortly before dawn. When he awoke after this short “nap,” his revered grandfather—not knowing that the bachur had learned all night—expressed his disapproval, reprimanding him for oversleeping. Yehudah Leib remained silent, and accepted the mussar respectfully and wholeheartedly.

His chavrusa—who had been present with him throughout the all-night learning session—asked with surprise, “Why did you just explain to your Zaide what happened? You weren’t slacking off or being lazy! We learned behasmada, with focus and fervor all night long!”

The young spiritual genius answered:

In Torah, we find that the shevatim of Reuven and Gad desired to receive their yerusha (inheritance) on the eastern side of the Yarden, the Transjordan, which they intended to settle after they joined the war of conquest of Eretz Canaan. Moshe misunderstood their intentions, and—assuming they were avoiding aiding Am Yisrael in the war—rebuked them sharply: הַאַחֵיכֶם יָבֹאוּ לַמִּלְחָמָה וְאַתֶּם תֵּשְׁבוּ פֹה— ‘Your brothers are going out to war and you are sitting here?’

You see, the shevatim did not defend themselves! And, why did they not just explain their intention to Moshe and avoid the harsh rebuke? Because it is not every day that one has the opportunity to be reprimanded by Moshe Rabbeinu, himself—the greatest man who ever lived. The leaders of the tribes understood that more important than explaining themselves was the value of receiving mussar for its own sake.

Had I interrupted my holy grandfather—one of the greatest men of the generation, and who loves me and believes in my potential more than anyone else—I would have missed out on this rare opportunity to receive tochacha from him. That is something far too precious to lose.

~

Our sedra contains a detailed description of the great rewards Hashem promises us for observing His commandments, as well as the repercussions and tochacha that we bring upon ourselves if we choose to abandon our commitments. Although the rebukes that are detailed in our sedra are stingingly harsh and often very frightening, they are only meant to awaken us to teshuvah. In this way, Parshas Bechukosai is an opportunity for us to consider how we respond to admonition, mussar and rebuke—even when it is hard to swallow and uncomfortable to hear.

Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, was the posek hador—the most respected and accepted halachic authority of the generation. A beloved rosh yeshiva and the worldwide address for every sort of Torah question and concern, Reb Moshe fielded not only the most complicated legal and ethical quandaries, but also a few loaded statements.

In sefer Igros Moshe (Ohr Hachayim, 1:96), Reb Moshe addresses a responsum to Rabbi Moshe Metzger who had rebuked him for a seeming transgression of maris ayin—a permissible action that onlookers might view as a violation of halacha. With genuine humility, Reb Moshe expressed appreciation for this individual’s tochacha: “I was very happy that (he) may his honor be upraised, was so zealous in fulfilling the mitzvah of rebuke according to his understanding, and chas v’shalom that I should be upset at this. … Bli neder, I will no longer travel in a car during the time of candle lighting, even though there is absolutely no prohibition in it, and it is not even an issue of maris ayin.”

Reb Moshe had been traveling in a car from his home to his yeshiva on Erev Shabbos after the time of hadlakas neiros, candle lighting time; his wife had lit, but he had still not accepted Shabbos upon himself. In the responsum to the critic who had spotted him, Reb Moshe explains that maris ayin does not apply to a permissible act which some people may erroneously assume is a violation of halacha. After completely refuting the arguments of the one who rebuked him, Rav Moshe concludes his letter: “From his beloved friend who blesses him with the merit of the mitzvah of rebuke that he did for the honor of Hashem Yisborach and for the honor of Shabbos Kodesh.”

~

Rebuke of any member of Klal Yisrael must serve the purpose of לקרב ולא לרחק—drawing that person close, not chalilah, driving him or her away. So too, may we draw ourselves close to Hashem and not distance ourselves by reacting negatively to essentially constructive rebuke. May we respond even to other’s misperceptions by awakening ourselves toward self-improvement, encouraging ourselves to deepen and expand our spiritual horizons and working harder for others. May we be open to divine providence and to “read between the lines” to hear messages that motivate us toward growth.


Rav Judah Mischel is executive director of Camp HASC, the Hebrew Academy for Special Children. He is the mashpiah of OU-NCSY, founder of Tzama Nafshi and the author of “Baderech: Along the Path of Teshuva.” Rav Judah lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh with his wife Ora and their family.

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles