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Mishlei: Life Training

“To provide simple people with cleverness, a youth with knowledge and design.” (Proverbs 1:4) Rabbeinu Bachya understands this verse as describing rebuke: The groups of people one should rebuke, when the occasion demands, are first and foremost, the scholars, the wise man. Solomon wrote in Proverbs (9:8): “Do not rebuke the scoffer so that he does not hate you. Rebuke the wise man instead and he will love you.”

As far as the ignorant person is concerned, Solomon said, “To give prudence to the simple.” Concerning adolescents, Solomon wrote in that same verse, “To the young man knowledge and discretion.”

The people who most frequently qualify for the practice of the Torah’s instruction to rebuke one’s fellow man are the adolescents, the young people. The reason for this is that their intellectual faculties have yet to mature. The evil urge with which they have been born has yet to be matched by the Yetzer HaTov – the Good Inclination – which becomes part of them only when they reach maturity.

Seeing that for the first twelve or thirteen years of their lives they had been concerned only with indulging in the pleasures the world has to offer, it is natural that they need to be rebuked from time to time. Such rebukes will make them more amenable to the demands made upon them by the Torah.

If one were to allow the young person to follow the dictates of his heart until he reaches intellectual maturity he would have become so firmly entrenched in obeying his desires that it would be too late to train him in the ways of the Torah (Rabbeinu Bachya, Commentary to the Torah, Introduction to Parshat Shemot. Translated by Eliyahu Munk)

Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Charlap (Mei Marom, Volume 14, Mishlei, page 4) understands this verse as an explanation as to why King Solomon chose to present the fundamental concepts of Proverbs as analogies: “God gives wisdom to the wise,” said Daniel (Daniel 2:21) A person needs some basic wisdom, and an appreciation of what wisdom offers, in order to receive more wisdom. However, a simple person, and a child, are unprepared to receive pure wisdom, and they must be taught in more accessible ways, such as mishalim – analogies and stories.

Although it may seem that Rabbi Charlop takes a different approach than Rabbeinu Bachya, in truth, he is reminding us of the true nature of rebuke (See Music of Halacha: Telling It Like It Is, The Messy Essence of Friendships, and Tidying Up The Mess)

Effective Tochacha is transmitting practical skills and tools that the other can use to improve. King Solomon reminds us that the great wisdom he is offering includes the ability to offer such Tochacha in an immediately accessible manner.

One needs great wisdom to offer Tochacha in an effective way. (See Responsa: Blessings Before Mitzvot #6) This verse reminds us that we can measure our wisdom by the ability to offer Tochacha with understanding, sensitivity and insight.
Which will be more effective with a child who is having difficulty controlling his anger? Will classic rebuke be effective? “You cannot act that way!” “You will suffer consequences if you do not control your anger!” “Go to your room until you learn how to behave!”  There was only one form of rebuke used when I was a cheder student: “Lean over the table!”

We did not learn how to handle our anger from rabbeim who hit us in anger.

I would often be enraged by school experiences. Many teachers were Holocaust survivors, who were not especially skilled, for good reason, in patience.  One teacher flipped over a desk while the student was sitting in it. I was incensed and spoke my mind.

I arrived home even more enraged as I couldn’t sit for a few days. I avoided all contact with anyone because the rabbi had called my father and I wasn’t looking forward to his reaction.

You can run, but you can’t hide; my father came home early and headed directly for my room. “So you are angry?” he asked. “Yes,” I answered. “I would be too,” he said, “in fact, I am angry both with what happened with the desk and how they punished you.”

“Wow!” I thought, “I’m home free.” I was wrong: “If your Rebbi was wrong in the way he expressed his anger, so were you.”

“Let’s figure out how you could have expressed your anger in a better way.” He spent an hour with me imagining different scenarios and how I could handle them in a productive way.

My father gave me tools and practical suggestions. That is the best form of Tochacha.

Effective Tochacha is to convey practical skills and tools that the other can use to improve.

The practical purpose of wisdom includes the ability to offer Tochacha in an immediately accessible manner.

One needs great wisdom to offer Tochacha in an effective way.

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