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    Criticising people harshly – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. Is it right to criticise people harshly?

    A. There is a right way to criticise, and a wrong way.

    The curse of the Tochechah in the Torah are read in a soft, almost inaudible voice. The Reader does not enjoy pronouncing harsh words or rebuke. He cannot imagine God derives any pleasure from the punishments He threatens. God does not criticise out of hatred, but out of love; “whom the Lord loves, He chastises” (Prov. 3:12).

    For those who enjoy belittling others and their deeds, there is a parable in Mendele Mocher Seforim, the “grandfather of Yiddish literature”, in his presentation of the old-time shtetl.

    Mendele writes about the women’s wick-drawing circle, which meets in one of the poverty-stricken houses of the village. There the women draw out wicks for synagogue candles, while they improvise prayers to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Hardly one of them can read or write. They know no Hebrew, apart from expressions incorporated into Yiddish. Yet they sway to and fro, repeating the words of a prayer-leader:

    “Judge of the world, merciful God! These candles we make for the synagogue, for the sake of Your great and holy Name, and for the sake of the souls of all the holy ones-may they awaken the sainted patriarchs and matriarchs, and cause them to rise and intercede for us, that no evil, pain or suffering be visited upon us; that the light of our husbands and of our children be not put out before their time, God forbid…

    “As we draw out this wick for our Father Abraham, whom You saved from the fiery furnace of Nimrod, so purify us from sin, that our souls may come before You unsullied as on the day we were born.”

    “Now,” demands Mendele indignantly, “let him laugh who dares. Let him, if he can utter the words, say it is all foolishness. No! May there be more such candles, more of these pure utterances of love for Torah and for all mankind.”

    And he proceeds: “And where do you find all this, I ask? Among women who seem coarse and ignorant, little souls of small account, women you would pass by in the market-place without a second glance!”

    “Let the mockers hear them,” he cries; “let them know what a Jewish heart really is!”

    And if the reader should say in surprise: “But you, Mendele, are the biggest of the mockers, the one who criticise the most!” – then Mendele replies, “But I criticise them out of love!”

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