by Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt
The Torah tells us Leah was disliked by Jacob. Why? The sages tell us it was because she gave him rebuke. When Jacob asked why she went along with her father’s deception and pretended to be Rachel, she responded that Jacob had also tricked his father into giving him Esau’s birthright.
Good point, but Jacob didn’t take it so well! Giving rebuke is one of the hardest things in life.
It’s the right thing to do, but more often than not you will be disliked for doing so. It’s so hard to give rebuke and not end up being the bad guy. And yet, businesses pay ridiculous amounts of money to be given rebuke – it’s called management consultancy, people coming in and telling you all the places your business is going wrong.
So why don’t we do the same on a personal level?
Rebuke in a business is something we will pay for; but free personal rebuke makes us upset? Purely and simply, it’s because our egos get in on the act. If a business is going wrong, financial realities override any ego. But if someone is telling us that we are making mistakes in our own lives – that’s very personal.
No one likes to hear that he or she is doing something wrong. The rabbis point out a glaring difference between King Saul and King David. When the prophet Samuel tells King Saul that he has transgressed, he ducks and dives, avoids responsibility and blames others. When the prophet Nathan tells King David he has transgressed, he says one word in Hebrew – chatasi, ‘I have transgressed.’
That section always brings tears to my eyes – I am in awe of King David’s greatness. The king of Israel, the most powerful man in the land, is rebuked by a prophet with no official position. And he simply responds: “I have transgressed.” No ifs, no buts, no excuses.
Plain and simply, I was wrong. How often do we hear those special words “I was wrong”?
More significantly, how often do we say them ourselves? When we make excuses and blame others, we put ourselves into a warm and cosy fantasy world of our own making. It feels good in our fantasy world because we get to end up being right always.
But deep down we know it’s all a lie and it just doesn’t satisfy. When we learn, on the other hand, to say, “I was wrong”, it comes with a beautiful feeling; a feeling of truth, of honesty, of a real and meaningful world.
I would posit we should find ourselves saying “I was wrong” at least every month or two. More and it’s just too good to be true, because we are human and we all make mistakes.
If it always seems to be someone else’s fault – my spouse, my co-worker, my friends – likely you are living in your own little fantasy and, ultimately, it cannot make you happy.
• Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt is founder of Tikun UK