Chukat 5772

June 24, 2012

7 min read


Chukat (Numbers 19:1-22:1 )

GOOD MORNING! Did you ever notice that you don't like criticism? When someone criticizes us we tend to get defensive -- and then offensive. First, we justify ourselves proclaiming that we are right ... and if that isn't possible, then we proceed immediately to the second step -- attacking the critic's credentials to criticize. "Who are you to criticize me? You're no better than I am." And ... in the end, the critic may have been right about our behavior ... and we may well have been wrong.

We know that no one is perfect and that we all make mistakes. We know that the only way to improve is be aware of our errors; we can't fix what we don't know is wrong. Criticism is our friend. One of the "48 Tools for Acquiring Wisdom" is to "Love Criticism" (Pirke Avos 6:6). Why don't we like criticism?

Criticism can be perceived as a challenge to our self-esteem, our integrity, our righteousness, our competence, our intelligence. We are all products of our environment and chances are that some of our parents and teachers have been over-zealous in finding not only our mistakes, but our faults and weaknesses. They may have even relished the experience of exerting their authority, expertise and control in telling us about our faults.

There is an old Jewish saying, "Both the home owner and the cat want to catch mice. The difference is that the home owner wants to be rid of the mice while the cat wants there to be mice which it can catch."

Why do people give criticism? One motivation: it gives them an ego boost and makes them feel empowered. There are two ways to feel good about yourself, to raise yourself up -- improve yourself ... your character, your talents, your knowledge, your capabilities -- or put someone else down. Then, there are those who unload "with both barrels firing" because they are angry about what the person did. However, there are people who genuinely care about others and want them to reach their potential in life.

What does the Torah teach us about criticism? The Torah speaks of criticism in terms of the mitzvot and ethical behavior: "You shall reprove your fellow man ..." (Lev. 19:17). There are many particular situations and corresponding laws for giving reproof. Please see Love Your Neighbor pages 278-292.

Before giving someone criticism, ask yourself, "Why do I want to point out these mistakes? Is it for my sake or for his? Do I want to help this person -- or am I just angry and want to vent my frustration?


Prerequisites for Giving Reproof

  1. Unless there is a pressing reason for immediate action, wait 24 hours before addressing the issue. This lets emotions calm down and gives perspective on the situation.
  2. Make sure that the information is correct. Oftentimes we do not know the full story.
  3. Ascertain if conveying the information will be of benefit to the individual and that he is willing to listen to you.
  4. Check out how you feel about relating the information. If you feel a thrill or anticipate joy, then you should not be the one to speak about the issue. Only speak with him if you truly feel love for and care about the person.
  5. Praise the person for 3 things, before raising the issue.

Prerequisites for Receiving Reproof

  1. Know that we are subjective; others can be objective. The person may be correct in total or to some degree.
  2. Focus on the fact that the person is either right or wrong about your actions. If he is right, learn from it and consider ways to improve. If he is wrong, use the situation as a lesson to avoid his mistakes when criticizing others. We can learn from everyone -- some what to do, some what not to do.
  3. Take to heart what the person says and consider it. Do not become defensive or accusatory. Say "Thank you."


Hear classes on...
Download to Go
or Listen FREE On-Line


Torah Portion of the Week

Another week of action, adventure and mystery as the Jewish people wander the desert in their 38th year. First, the laws of the red heifer (Parah Adumah) which was burnt with cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet thread. The ashes were then used in a purification ceremony for those who had come in contact with the dead. Strangely enough, all who were involved in the making of the ashes became ritually impure, but all who were sprinkled with them became ritually pure. It is a lesson that we must do the commandments even if we can't understand them. God decreed the commandments. They are for our benefit. We may not always know why.

Miriam, Moshe's sister and a prophetess, dies. The portable well which had accompanied the Israelites on her merit, ceased to flow. Once again the people rebelled against Moshe and Aharon because of the lack of water. The Almighty tells Moshe to speak to the rock for water. Moshe gets angry and hits the rock and water rushes forth. However, the Almighty punishes Moshe and Aharon for not sanctifying Him by forbidding their entry into the land of Israel. (It pays to follow instructions and to withhold anger!)

Aharon dies. His son, Elazar, is appointed the new High Priest. The Canaanite king of Arad attacks the Israelites and later is soundly defeated. Then there is another rebellion over the food and water which is answered by a plague of poisonous snakes. Moshe prays for the people and is instructed by God to put the image of a snake on a high pole. All who saw it would think of God, repent and live.

The Israelites then annihilate the Amorites and Bashanites who not only would not let us pass peacefully through their lands, but attacked us. There are many questions which need to be asked. Please consult the original work and a good commentary!

* * *

Dvar Torah
from Twerski on Chumash by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D.

The Torah states:

"When Og, king of Bashan, went to do battle with the Israelites, God said to Moshe, "Do not fear him, for into your hand have I given him" (Numbers 21:34).

Why would Moshe be afraid that he might lose to Og?

Rashi informs us that Moshe feared that Og might be victorious because of the merit he had from informing the patriarch Abraham that his nephew, Lot, was taken captive. However, Rashi says that Og's intent was less than laudable. Og hoped that Abraham would be killed in battle so that he could then marry Sarah! Yet, Moshe was concerned that Og's meritorious deed of enabling Abraham to save Lot would stand to his credit.

Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Charlap comments that this teaches us the great reward for doing an act of chesed, kindness. Even if the act is done for ulterior or reprehensible motives, one is nevertheless rewarded for the good that results from the act.


(or go to

Jerusalem 7:14
Guatemala 6:17 - Hong Kong 6:53 - Honolulu 6:59
J'Burg 5:07 - London 9:03 - Los Angeles 7:50
Melbourne 4:52 - Mexico City 8:00 - Miami 7:59
New York 8:13 - Singapore 6:56 - Toronto 8:45


Most people would rather be hurt by flattery
than helped by criticism
--  Laurence Peter


AISH FACT:  Aish HaTorah and the Israel Foreign Ministry co-founded Hasbara Fellowships in 2001 to train pro-Israel activists on North American university campuses.


In Honor of

Joseph, Gabriela, Natasha,
Evan & Daniela

With love,


In Loving Memory of
My Uncle

Arthur Weiss,
Asher ben Leib

With deep appreciation,
Geoff Frisch


Next Steps