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Constructive Criticism

Human beings are blessed with five senses: Hearing, touch, taste, smell and sight. Each sense contributes another dimension of reality. Of the five, though, vision is unique in that it allows us to take in an entire object, or an entire scene, at once. Imagine trying to identify an object while blindfolded. You could tap it to see what sound it makes, feel it, smell it, and even taste it. With each test, you are examining only one aspect of the object. By opening your eyes and looking at it, though, you perceive the entire object at once.

The Torah portion of this week begins with the words “Behold, I am placing before you today the blessing and the curse.” With that, G-d gave us the power clearly to visualize the blessing inherent in following the Torah. In one wonder-filled moment, we absorbed the full implication of G-d’s blessing. To merit this great blessing, all we have to do is make ourselves receptive to the Divine message.

“Love criticism, for it will raise you to great heights,” said Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber Schneerson, the fifth Rebbe of Chabad. A person willing to accept honest criticism will achieve a great deal, since he can view himself objectively, be honest about his shortcomings and strive to correct them. For him, criticism is the greatest blessing, since it helps him reach his goals.

However, someone who takes every criticism as an insult and goes immediately on the defensive is not blessed in life. He cannot reach his full potential, since he is unwilling or incapable of realizing his own shortcomings. Moses laid it out to the people directly – Behold I am placing before you the blessing and the curse. The choice is yours. Do you want to live a blessed life? It will take hard work, a bending of the will and ego, but the blessing is there, tangible. Take the easy way out, protect and defend your ego at all costs, and you will lose these wonderful benefits.

These words are applicable any time of year, but especially this week, which is the Shabbat before the month of Elul. Elul is the month of mercy and supplication, in which we make our spiritual preparations for Rosh Hashana. We examine all our deeds of the previous year and try to correct our mistakes. We add extra prayers during Elul and endeavor to do more good deeds and acts of kindness, as we beseech G-d to grant us a sweet year.

When we open ourselves up to accept words of criticism, delivered with love and compassion, we will be able to make a true accounting. This is the blessing of “when you will hear” – when you are open to listen, to learn, internalize and fix what needs correction, then you will see the blessing, in a vibrant and tangible form.

On this Shabbat in 5751, the Rebbe asked us to publicize that G-d, through his prophets, is telling every Jew: “Behold I am placing the blessing before you.” On this very day, we will see with our eyes the blessing of the true and complete Redemption.

(Translated from the writings of Baruch Moshe Makemel A”H)


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