When and How to Critique - דברים

Friday, 21 July, 2023 - 3:33 pm


When and How to Critique 

Moses had a lot to say. 

The entire book of Deuteronomy consists of the words Moses spoke during the last thirty-seven days of his life. Words in which he retold the history of the prior forty years, which included not only Divine miracles and the extraordinary revelation at Sinai but also words of rebuke. 

The Torah tells us the precise date when Moses began speaking the words of rebuke: 

it came to pass in the fortieth year, in the eleventh month, on the first of the month, that Moses spoke to the children of Israel according to all that the Lord had commanded him regarding them; (Deuteronomy 1:3)

Yet, the Torah also informs us that this date was:


After he had smitten Sihon, king of the Amorites, who dwelt in Heshbon, and Og, king of the Bashan, who dwelt in Ashtaroth in Edrei. (Deuteronomy 1:4)

Rashi explains why the Torah emphasizes that Moses spoke after the conquest of the land of Sichon and Og, a fact that was well known as it was recorded in great detail earlier in the Torah. 

After He had smitten [Sihon]: Moses said: If I rebuke them before they enter [at least] part of the land, they will say, “What [claim] has this [man] on us? What good has he ever done for us? He has come only to vex us and to find some pretext, for he does not have the power to bring us into the land.” Therefore he [Moses] waited until he had defeated Sihon and Og before them and had given them possession of their land, and [only] afterwards did he rebuke them. 

Rashi teaches us a profound insight. Although Moses loved his people and was devoted to them unconditionally, he understood that, for whatever reason, the people did not necessarily appreciate the love. Moses understood that the prerequisite to offering words of critique is that the receiver feel appreciated, safe, and loved. Moses understood that as long as the people did not appreciate his devotion to them, he could not critique them.

Moses waited. 

Moses waited thirty-nine years before he told the people the words of rebuke, which were motivated by his love for them. He waited thirty-nine years to ensure that they could hear the love in the rebuke. 

This is a lesson for us in our relationships. Before offering constructive criticism  it is insufficient that our words emanate from a place of love rather than from our own ego. To help someone grow, it is not enough to love someone with all our heart; rather, we must ensure that they sense the love. 

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