Respect and Rebuke – Working hand in hand

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Respect and rebuke

By Harav Y Reuven Rubin Shlita

Game Theory “is the study of participants’ behaviour in strategic situations. What economists call game theory psychologists call the theory of social situations, which is an accurate description of what game theory is about.” Simply put, it is shorthand for how we mortals handle our interactions with others.

We tailor our responses to challenges in ways that will best bring about what we consider positive results, or, more to the point, we sometimes are called upon to “play the game” so as to attain the best results. Allow me to share an example.

Reb Yankele is having a serious dilemma: his son is getting out of control, befriending the wrong sort of companions and tragically acting in ways contrary to Torah norms. Our friend is worried and finds himself at his wit’s end. He goes to his Rav and asks him for his advice. The Rav tells him to sit down, have a cup of tea, and talk. It turns out the kid is getting into trouble and seems beyond the school’s and even parental control. “Should I send him out of the family’s circle? After all, his behaviour can impact negatively on his siblings. The Rav sighs, and tells Reb Yankele a shtickel Torah.

In Parshas Toldos we are told, “Yitzchok loved Eisav for there was game -hunted food- in his mouth” (25:28).

Rashi offers two possible interpretations:

1) Yitzchok’s love for Eisav was due to the fact that Eisav supplied him with food, and was swayed by his partiality to the one who fed him.

2) Eisav “hunted” Yitzchok with his mouth, asking him seemingly pious questions such as, “How does one tithe salt and straw?” (these are not tithed at all).

Both explanations leave us wondering: was Yitzchok really taken in by Eisav’s superficial ploys? Was he so shallow as to be persuaded by Eisav’s feeding him, or so foolish as to be convinced of Eisav’s piety because of a few strategic questions?

We have all met insincere people in our lives. Many of us would pride ourselves in our ability to see through their contrived sincerity, and recognize them for what they truly are. Was the patriarch, Yitzchok, not capable of identifying Eisav’s childish “games” as such?  The perush Olas Shabbos offers a novel interpretation. Maybe Yitzchok knew what was happening all along, and it was he who was playing the “game” with Eisav. Mishlei tells us: Do not rebuke the scoffer, lest he hate you. Rebuke a wise man, and he will love you.”

“Rebuke a wise man – by telling him how wise he is, and how inappropriate his actions were for a person of his stature, and he will love you”

The Alshich Hakodosh explains that there are two ways to rebuke a sinner. One way is to reprimand him by calling him a fool and a sinner. While your words will surely ring out with the unadulterated truth, they will likely only cause him to hate you, thereby distancing him even further from the path of the Torah.  The other way is to admonish him by telling him how much you respect him, and how shocked you are that a person as wise and thoughtful as him could make so fatal a mistake.

By showing him respect, while at the same time expressing surprise that someone like him could act in a manner so unbefitting, he will love you, and will almost surely accept your rebuke. The Alshich thus explains the above verse: Do not rebuke the scoffer – by calling him a scoffer, for he will [only] hate you – as a result of your harsh rebuke. Rebuke a wise man – by telling him how wise he is, and how inappropriate his actions were for a person of his stature, and he will love you.

Yitzchok saw through his son’s ruse; the “game” was upon Yitzchok’s lips, not Eisav’s. Yitzchok was glad that his errant son was offering him the chance to show him some unconditional love. His hope was that by giving him the opportunity to ask questions and bring food his son would feel his father’s love and respect and this would perhaps turn him back onto the proper path.

The Rov looked into the eyes of the pained father saying: While sadly in that particular instance it didn’t seem to work, the Torah is showing us the path in which we as parents must tread when facing youngsters who seem to be slipping away.

True, our first instinct is to be hurt when a child turns away from our Mesorah. We may very well burn with righteousness and rant on about how the youngster is causing us all such pain. This usually makes the child indignant and exacerbates the tension. We should rather seek ways to extol the youngster’s good points, explaining that such a wonderful child should see that certain actions are truly beneath his standing. Well then, my dear friend, follow this example laid down by our ancestors, and hopefully your son will be touched at the epicenter of all Yidden: his pintele Yid, and he will then return. The fact that you show him love will give him reason to reevaluate what he is doing, and hopefully give him a path back.

I shared this understanding at a shiur this week and it sparked a lively debate. As with all understanding of Torah in terms of our current situation, the answers are there; we just have to act on them. It isn’t always the easy path, but as Mishlei has taught us, it is the way of finding love, and not hate, from the youngsters in turmoil. 

A heartfelt Mazal Tov

To Menashe Rosenberg and his Family

On the birth of their daughter.

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