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    How loud must you be? – Ki Tavo

    Twice a year we read a tochechah, a list of curses threatened for disobedience to God. Its content is unpleasant, and this is shown in the tone of voice used by the baal k’riah. Usually he reads the Torah loudly and clearly. On these Shabbatot his voice drops to a whisper.

    Pronouncing the curses aloud might imply that he derives pleasure from uttering the horrific phrases, and that his congregation are such transgressors that they deserve fire and brimstone. So, in order not to give the wrong impression, he lowers his voice… but those who have sense listen and take heed nonetheless.

    There are times when we all stray from the straight and narrow path. But nobody needs to tell us this in a loud voice. The soft, almost inaudible voice of conscience gets its message across. And this lesson applies not only when we need to rebuke ourselves, but when we feel we need to rebuke others.

    True, there is an explicit command in the Torah, hoche’ach tochi’ach et amitecha, “you shall surely rebuke your neighbour” (Lev. 19:17). But you do not have to humiliate an errant neighbour by making your rebuke too loud. Even when you need to criticise or protest, you should do it quietly, tactfully, with respect for the other person’s dignity.

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