7 - Hochay'ach Tocheach part 1

The Gemara discusses the mitzvos of helping one person who is having trouble loading packages onto his donkey and another who is struggling with unloading his donkey's burden.

We are stretching in ahavas yisrael together to create z’chusim for K’lal Yisrael in these urgent times.


Last week’s stretch of the week was:

If you have unresolved issues with someone else, contact a halachic authority to be sure you are approaching the matter correctly.

Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.

 Taking A Deeper Look - Lesson #7

Constructive Criticism

Hochay’ach Tocheach

PART 1 - A Loving Message


Unfortunately, many people perceive tochacha, at least when it is directed against them, as a critical, negative form of speech, perhaps even an attack. It is true that some people rebuke harshly, using humiliating words and not explaining how the person can improve. Obviously, their words will not achieve the desired results. However, when tochacha is given properly and with the right intentions, this negative perception of tochacha could not be further from the truth.

Rebuking in public is limited to situations when there is an urgent need to stop a person from committing a sin. The immediacy of the matter justifies the shame that the offender will suffer. In general, however, we have to be very careful not to embarrass the offender when giving tochacha, as we learn from the conclusion of the passuk of hochay’ach tocheach: “Velo tisa alav cheit - and do not bear a sin because of him” (explained by Rashi to mean, “You will be sinning if you embarrass him”).

Therefore, we should not speak to the offender harshly and should not reprove him in front of other people. Rather, we should speak to him privately, using pleasant, gentle language, reminding him all the time that we have only his interests in mind - that he should merit a good portion in Olam HaBa, the Next World.

The mode of rebuke should match the subject. If the wrongdoer is of soft character, a soft approach should be used; if he is tough, then a more forceful approach may be necessary. When tochacha is given to a well-respected person or in front of a public audience (not all of whom are guilty), we should only hint at the sins committed and not state them explicitly, so that our words will be accepted. Nowadays, the most effective way to ease in the rebuke painlessly is often to “sugarcoat it” with a good joke.

An important prerequisite before we give tochacha is to check ourselves to make sure we are not guilty of the same sin. People have a tendency to notice the faults of others while being blind to their own. If an honest examination reveals that we too are lacking in this area, we should correct our own deeds before rebuking others on the same point. Aside from the moral imperative involved, this is advised from a practical standpoint; no one is likely to accept tochacha offered hypocritically. A typical response to such tochacha would be, ”look who’s talking….” (Mishpetei Hashalom 9:5, 14)

(Excerpts from The Code of Jewish Conduct by Rabbi Yitzchok Silver)

Story:  (based on a true story) 

My daughter Shira often reported to me that she had a difficult relationship with her teacher, Morah Miller, in school. From time to time she would return home with a complaint about Morah Miller’s insults directed to her or the insensitive remarks made at her expense. As a parent of a sensitive and energetic 8 year old daughter, I assumed that Shira was exaggerating and used sarcasm to replay the day’s events. However over time, these comments were occurring more frequently. According to Shira, her teacher started to make direct accusations at her and would punish her more severely than the other girls in the class. This was upsetting to hear.

One day while waiting in the parking lot at dismissal, I witnessed an incident that took place between Shira and Morah Miller. A few snack bag wrappers were left on the ground where Shira’s class had gathered. Talking and giggling, Shira stood in line waiting to hear for her carpool number to be called. All of a sudden her teacher pointed straight at her and yelled, “Shira, pick up that chip bag RIGHT NOW and do NOT throw your garbage on the floor again!!!” I was flabbergasted! I witnessed the entire scene from the beginning and saw no negative behavior on my daughter’s behalf except MAYBE some innocent chatter. I felt my blood starting to boil. Not only was my daughter not guilty, but now I had proof of Morah Miller’s insensitivity and had reached my maximum tolerance level for her rude and accusing behavior towards my little girl.

I quickly ran over to the line, grabbed my daughter by the hand while looking at the teacher straight in the eye and proclaimed in front of the whole class, “What about being dan l’chaf z’chus? Why do you assume it was Shira who threw the bag on the floor? Did you actually see her do it? Well I was watching the entire time and it wasn’t Shira! I’ll be taking her home now!” I yanked Shira by the arm and dragged her all the way to the car, trying to rationalize that what I had done was totally necessary and was my responsibility as her parent. We settle ourselves in the car and starting driving home.

The car ride was quiet. Moments before we turned onto our street, Shira quietly asked, “Mommy, why did you yell at my Morah in front of the whole class? It was so embarrassing.”

I didn’t know what to say. By the time she asked me the question I had calmed down a bit. Once some emotional distance from the initial scene was in place, I reviewed my action and began to feel ashamed, especially because of my daughter’s awareness of my impatience. Whether what I said was correct or not, I had lost control of myself. What was I trying to accomplish by yelling at her, especially in front of her class? This approach clearly did not help Shira’s relationship with her teacher or mine. I realized the only feat I accomplished was to release my anger. In hindsight I realized that I could have phoned the teacher and expressed my frustration. Instead, I humiliated myself, my daughter and the teacher in front of her class.

Being critical with myself, it was natural for me to dwell on this event for days – tossing many ideas around in my head about how I could have better expressed my frustrations more effectively. After honestly thinking about the incident, I admit that I also share the same frustration with my daughter as her teacher. I also find it difficult to deal with my daughter’s excessive energy levels, lose patience with her and feel at a loss as to how to handle her. Perhaps this is why I am more sensitive when I perceive events happening around me that involve her. I realize this is why I reacted the way I did. I remember learning that if we see something that bothers us in someone else, it is likely that we suffer from the same issue. In retrospect, it would benefit everyone if I could pause and reflect within myself before I set out to give tochacha to others. Undoubtedly, my tochacha would be more balanced, well thought out and probably better received. I could approach these moments with more compassion, understanding and even humor because I’d be coming from a place of awareness and a desire to improve myself as well.

Discussion Question Options: 

Do most people give tochacha when they are calm and focused or out of anger and frustration? Can both methods be effective?

Do you respect the opinion of someone who rebukes you on an issue that they also struggle with?

If you use humor while giving tochacha, how can you ensure your message gets across without them thinking it’s a joke?

Stretch of the Week: 

When rebuking someone this week, try to do so with humor instead of anger.


Stretch Of The Week