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Parashat Emor

May 7, 2015

by Rabbi Michael Pitkowsky

Love and rebuke are actions that many people understand to be in tension with each other. If you love someone then you don’t rebuke them, and if you rebuke someone, then it must be because you don’t love them. In reality, it is wrong to see love and rebuke as being polar opposites. Sometimes it is because of our love that we rebuke someone, and rebuke can also be understood to be a way of expressing love. The way in which we rebuke someone is what makes all the difference. Do the tone and content of our rebuke reflect concern and empathy, or do they give the impression of a patronizing and judgmental attitude?

In his book Parperaot la-Torah, Rabbi Natan Tzvi Friedman brought the following source from the commentary Kol Rinah that addressed the need to rebuke out of love.

“The LORD said to Moses: Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them: No one shall defile himself for a dead person among his people.” (Leviticus 21:1) Our Sages said (Yebamot 49b) that the prophet Isaiah was punished on account of what he said about Israel in his rebuke, “And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5) From here [we learn] that there is a warning for those who rebuke the people, whose job is to instruct Israel in Torah and mitzvot, for at the moment of their rebuke they should not harm the honor of the People of Israel [who are] holy and pure, and they shouldn’t defile their lips with criticism of Israel. This is the intention of the verse here about “the sons of Aaron” who teach your laws to Jacob and your Torah to Israel. “No one shall defile himself for a dead person among his people,” that they shouldn’t defile themselves with criticism of Israel at the time when they rebuke the people, “among his people.”

A true leader always remembers that he or she is “among his people.” Defiling our lips with criticism of our people is not what is demanded of us, but rather to be like “the sons of Aaron” who were known for loving peace and pursuing peace.

Shabbat Shalom.


Rabbi Michael Pitkowsky is the AJR Rabbinics Curriculum Coordinator.