As we approach the High Holy Days, we are supposed to be thinking about how we can grow and change in the new year. Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we apologize to others for our sins and mistakes. It is important that we look to change ourselves even though we would like to change others (which is so much easier — or so we think). Here is a story about a mitzvah called tokhekhah (rebuke).
Rabbi Yoshi Ber, the Rabbi of Brisk, once criticized a butcher for doing wrong. He pleaded with the man to change his ways, but the man refused. On the day before Yom Kippur, Rabbi Ber went to the butcher and apologized to him, asking forgiveness. The butcher was surprised and said, “Why does the rabbi ask my forgiveness? I should be asking forgiveness of you because I did not listen to what you told me.” The rabbi answered, “That is why I have to ask your forgiveness, because when my original words didn’t make a difference, all I was doing was making myself feel proud about pointing out your faults. It was vanity.” The butcher was so ashamed that he started to weep. He said he would do everything possible to change.
This mitzvah of tokhekhah comes from Leviticus 19:17 — “You must not hate your brother in your heart. You must certainly rebuke your neighbor and not bear sin because of them.” This is quite a challenge — when do I correct and when shouldn’t I? The Baal Shem Tov said, “Make sure that what he is doing is really wrong for him to be doing and not just something you don’t like about your own behavior. You have to correct another person because you love him. The criticism has to be for his own good and not to get even or hurt him.” That makes it a little easier to understand but it is not an easy thing to do.
As we look to change ourselves this new year, let us also think about how we treat others and how we can be helpful. It is a definite challenge! Have a good new year!
Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.