In the final book of the Pentateuch, Sefer Devarim (the book of Deuteronomy), Moses recounted the events that happened to the Jewish people following their Exodus from Egypt. Rashi explains that the places Moses mentioned allude to all the times when the Jewish people angered God, meaning that Moses’ recollection of their voyage through the wilderness was in fact a veiled rebuke.
Moses was not the first individual to rebuke those closest to him before his passing. Jacob’s stern rebuke to his first three sons as he lay on his death bed is one example. Yet, Jacob’s rebuke is actually referred to as a blessing, exactly like the overt blessings he bestowed upon his other sons.
How can a severe rebuke be considered a blessing?
The inside inlaid with love (תּוֹכוֹ רָצוּף אַהֲבָה)
The inner motivation of true rebuke is great love. This is true of a loving father, and is also true of the Almighty Himself, who rebukes us with love, as we find in Proverbs, “For he who God loves, He rebukes; like a father who cherishes his son.” Malbim explains:
Rebuke is a sign of love, because in His love He supervises over the individual to make sure he improves his way, and to elevate him to an infinitely higher level.
Loving parents know that they must rebuke their children for their own benefit, in order to educate them and refine their ways. In contrast, parents who do not rebuke their children at all only cause them harm, as we see from the tragic results of King David’s negligence in rebuking Adoniyah, his firstborn son, who tried to steal the crown at the end of David’s life and was subsequently put to death.
So, rebuke is actually the most eloquent expression of love! Indeed, “Better is revealed rebuke [when it comes] from hidden love.”
The idea that love is an integral component of rebuke is further alluded to in the word “rebuke” (תּוֹכָחָה) itself. The first syllable means “within” (תּוֹךְ) and the second syllable (חָה) has a numerical value of 13, the same as “love” (אַהֲבָה), meaning that internally, heartfelt conscientious rebuke is motivated by love and the rebuke serves as a vessel for transferring this love.
From a more profound perspective, Chassidut teaches us that there are two levels of blessing. Normal blessings are visible and are spoken of openly in public, but there are special blessings that must remain concealed, even hidden within stern criticism. A hidden blessing actually emanates from a higher source than a blessing that is self-evident. This is why when the Almighty afflicts an individual with suffering, God forbid, he should accept it with joy. This joy comes from the profound realization that the affliction is a type of spiritual abundance that emanates from a very high source; from the concealed world that cannot be revealed in our world in the form of a blessing. As such, affliction is an even deeper expression of God’s closeness to us, “Happy is the man whom God afflicts.” This idea is certainly not an easy pill to swallow for the suffering individual, but, from an objective point of view we can understand how the rebuke itself is a blessing, like a father who says, “I love this defiant child so much, therefore I must scold him for his disobedience.”
In this way, Moses’ gentle, loving and compassionate rebuke of the Jewish people in the book of Deuteronomy is actually a blessing in disguise.
From Rabbi Ginsburgh’s class 15th Av 5772