“You shall love your fellow as yourself” a well-known commandment, is one of the many mitzvahs between man and his fellow which we learn about in this week’s Torah portion. Before bringing this mitzvah, the Torah also commands us, “You shall not hate your brother in your heart; you shall reprove your fellow and do not bear a sin because of him. You shall not take revenge and you shall not bear a grudge against the members of your people; you shall love your fellow as yourself- I am Hashem.” (Chapter 19, Verses 17-18)
Regarding this mitzvah, Rebbe Noson teaches that part of loving the other person is to be careful how you speak to them and how you try to rebuke them for their misdeeds. He says that there is no other aspect of human relationships in which the yetzer hara (evil inclination) fools people into making serious sins seem like mitzvahs, like arguments. In this matter the evil inclination can easily ‘clothe’ itself as a mitzvah, because it incites a person to think that it’s a mitzvah to rebuke him harshly for what he’s done. We all know that there is no person who doesn’t have some negative character traits or actions. However, says Rebbe Noson, we are instructed by the Torah and by the Tzaddikim not to look at the bad of other Jews; we should only look at their good aspects and judge them favorably, like the Sages teach in several places. Even regarding someone who sins, the Torah warned us: “you shall reprove your fellow and do not bear a sin because of him”, meaning that you are not allowed to rebuke him in public and sin yourself in order to reprimand him. Therefore one of the Sages said, ‘I wonder if there is anyone in this generation who knows how to rebuke’. This is even truer, says Rebbe Noson, in these generations. So how can we help our friends when they make mistakes or sin, G-d forbid? Reb Noson says, it is a great mitzvah to speak heart to heart with our friend or loved one, to speak with them words of truth in a loving and respectful way regarding their situation and how to improve their actions. To rebuke someone publicly and to cause them embarrassment, G-d forbid, or to continue or begin an argument just causes further damage. Each person needs to be very careful not to continue an argument and not to fool themselves that they are doing a mitzvah by rebuking someone harshly. (Likutei Halachot, Laws of Impure Wine, 4th teaching)
If it does not help to rebuke someone in an argumentative, negative way, then how can we help a friend or loved one when we see them making a mistake? I have mentioned before Rebbe Nachman’s important teaching about searching for the good points in ourselves and in others, Azamra, Lesson 282 in Likutei Moharan. Regarding interpersonal relationships, Azamra is the true way to help another person correct their mistakes. By looking at our fellow’s good points, their good deeds and qualities, and focusing on them, we can truly help them grow and improve. Rebbe Nachman says that when you judge someone favorably, in your mind, and all the more so when you speak with them about their good points, you raise them up from the side of sin to the side of merit. This then gives them an opening to do teshuva, to correct their ways.
There is a story brought in a new booklet I received this Pesach about a conversation between Rebbe Noson and one of his students, which illustrates the power of looking for the good in others. Once a student named Rav Meir came to Rebbe Noson, and Rebbe Noson asked him about a man from the city of Teplik whom he had a connection with. R’ Meir answered him that there’s nothing to talk about. Reb Noson replied to him, listen to me, if you want to look with this kind of an eye at people you’ll find fault with the whole world! Look at all of the residents of your city whom you know, and start from the one who dwells at the edge of the city. When you look at him closely, surely you’ll find his faults. This will also be the case as you go from house to house. Until you come to your own house- are you the most kosher (righteous) Jew in the whole city? R’ Meir answered him, I’m also not a kosher Jew. Reb Noson answered him, you’re also not?! If so, who is kosher? Reb Noson continued his reply: However, if you’ll look with a good eye at others, then even when you’ll look at the worst of the worst you’ll find in him something good, and all the more so someone who is not so bad; and so too in every person. Also inside of you there is good. In this way you can find the merits of everyone in the whole world. (Kochvei Or, Rebbe Noson’s teachings, 18)
We learn here from Rebbe Nachman and his student Reb Noson that the true way to rebuke someone is to show them how good they really are, to speak to their heart and awaken their good points. They are good and truly inside they only want to do good. When we practice focusing on and emphasizing our good points, then we will see our actions and words, and think to ourselves, ‘hey, this is not me. This is not how I want to speak, or think or act. I’m good, I’m a beautiful soul!’
(The image is courteous of Chabad.org)