Every facet of our forefathers’ behavior and actions provides lessons and deep insight into life and how to live it. A beautiful case in point can be gleaned from this week’s Parsha and the story of Yaakov Avinu arriving at the well in Charan, where he meets Rachel. When Yaakov first arrives he encounters the shepherds: (Bereishis 29:4) “And Yaakov said to them; my brothers, where are you from?”
Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky, zt’l says in his Sefer on Chumash, Emes L’Yaakov, that he was always bothered by Yaakov’s choice of the word “brothers” here, when greeting total strangers. It comes across as bizarre to address a group of unknown people in such a manner. When Lot addressed his fellow Sodomites with the term “my brothers” (Bereishis 19:7), he had a standing connection to them, and he was appealing to their good graces. Those circumstances seemingly don’t apply here.
Rav Kaminetsky answers by going on to discuss giving Tochacha (rebuke). It is so very hard to properly give tochacha. Effective, proper rebuke has practically disappeared because no one knows how to. What is the key element in rebuke that people are missing? It is the ability to feel genuine love towards the one you are rebuking. Rebuke needs to come from a place of caring, from a person who appreciates and is concerned about his friend. Without that element of love, the words of rebuke do not penetrate and rather than achieving an improvement in the sinner’s behavior, the one giving rebuke has caused more harm than good by sowing seeds of discord and animosity through his ineffective and potentially hurtful rebuke.
With this we can understand Yaakov’s use of the term “brothers.” Chazal tell us that Yaakov was in the process of rebuking the shepherds for stealing from their masters, as that is what he thought was happening. (Bereishis Rabba 70:11, Rashi 29:7) In order to show them the error of their ways, Yaakov needed to establish a feeling of kinship and connection with the shepherds, hence he called them “brothers.”
Rav Yaakov concludes that anyone trying to correct another’s behavior is obligated to first build love of his fellow man in his heart. Tochacha should be an expression of caring and wanting to help one’s friend. This lack of connecting with the other, is apparently the big stumbling block that so incapacitates people nowadays in the art and practice of giving proper rebuke. If the recipient of the rebuke doesn’t feel valued and appreciated, doesn’t feel genuine love coming simultaneously with the advice, correction and rebuke, he will most likely shut off any acceptance of the message.
Rav Yaakov tells us that nowadays we just don’t know how to give our neighbor and friend proper rebuke. BUT rebuke is exactly what we give our children every day, every hour, every minute. We are constantly, correcting, redirecting, motivating, deterring, cajoling, admonishing, warning, encouraging and many other forms of attempting to fashion their behavior, attitudes and actions in the proper direction. Even though we may be dealing with little children, the lesson of Yaakov Avinu is extremely relevant.
Our life-long attempts to raise our children along the proper path can only be successful if the children perceive a foundation of love flowing from their parents. We all profess to love our children dearly and truly believe it, but that love needs to come across frequently, deeply, and especially when we are rebuking them. When we act out of frustration, punish because “we can’t take it anymore,” and show uncontrolled impatience with our children, our words are unlikely to have any positive effect. We may be so convinced of our underlying love for our children that we place no restraints on how we lash out at them in moments of deep irritation. It is not enough that we know how much we love them; our children must know and feel that indeed they are loved by us. Our actions and demeanor must demonstrate to our children that our love is genuine and deep seated and unwavering.
Our children learn they are loved when our default mood is one of pleasantness. When our home is one of happiness with a positive atmosphere, children are calmer, more self-assured and happier to comply with rules and directions that contribute to their general sense of well-being. If we follow Yaakov Avinu’s guidelines for giving rebuke when disciplining our children, we will ensure our home will be a safe place, an oasis of tranquility in the raging sea of life and we, the parents, will be the child’s trusted anchor to remain attached to, forever.
Best wishes for a Shabbos of love and smiles,
Rabbi Kalman Baumann