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Vayigash(Genesis 44:18-47:27)

Critical Love

In this week's Torah portion, Joseph goes through a whole song and dance with his brothers in order to give them rebuke. Giving rebuke is actually one of the 613 commandments and is considered part and parcel of any loving relationship. A relationship without rebuke, the Sages tell us, is not one of true love.

Let's notice for a moment that our experience confirms this. Those who love us the most are our parents and spouses. They are also usually the ones who criticize us the most!

But why do criticism and love go together?

If someone you really loved was walking off a cliff, you would scream and shout at him to stop. So too, if he is falling off a spiritual cliff, we feel the need to scream and shout for him to stop. If we see someone we love not treating his parents properly, for example, or being dishonest or getting involved with a bad crowd, we feel a need to intervene - for his good, not for ours. We want people who we love to be happy. And we know that these modes of behavior will ultimately take them in the opposite direction. So we point out where they are going wrong. More often than not, we'll get an earful for our efforts. But when rebuke is given out of love, we are willing to accept any backlash.

There is another reason why rebuke is related to love. Usually, it's only from within a loving relationship that we feel the confidence to give rebuke. In a lesser relationship, we might be afraid that rebuke will drive the other person away from us. I often find with unmarried couples that they are afraid to say what they really think, for fear of losing the other person. So they skirt around the issues and sweep them under the carpet.

True love requires rebuke. We may not always know how to give it productively and sensitively. In fact, most of the time we seem to get it horribly wrong. But when we are on the receiving end of messed-up rebuke from those who love us, we might do well to remember: The criticism is not coming from a lack of appreciation, but rather the opposite is true: It's because they love us so much.

Published: December 24, 2008

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