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Now browsing: Hometown News > Religion > Zvi Konikov

Zvi Konikov
This Week | Archive

Religion column
Rating: 2.49 / 5 (240 votes)  
Posted: 2009 Jul 24 - 03:00

How to criticize

Out of respect, I do not write G-d's name, even an English substitute, in a place where it may be discarded or erased.

In Chabad, we are taught many things, including how to criticize - and care.

A Kohen is a priest, a descendent of Aaron, the High Priest of the tribe of Levi. More than three millennia ago the Kohanim were charged with the mission of blessing the Jewish people. The Kabbalah explains that the reason the Kohanim were designated to be the conduits for Divine blessings is that their souls evolve from the celestial chamber of love, granting them a unique ability to cultivate compassion and kindness toward others and hence making them uniquely suitable conduits for G-d's love and grace.

The Torah says only the Kohen can diagnose another human being as suffering from an illness that renders him or her severely impure. This imparts a critical lesson for all of us. Before we diagnose another person as being spiritually ill and deserving temporary isolation, we must make sure that our heart if filled with love toward this person. Then our diagnosis and rebuke will build, rather than destroy, this person's character.

In our roles as a parent, educator, spouse or employer we sometimes need to criticize and sometimes punish. All too often the criticism is done more to release our own anger and frustration, than as a tool to help the person become the best they can be. We call it discipline and justice, but if criticism is not based on kindness and the desire to help the other person, it may end up being more destructive than constructive.

Principals and teachers at times may feel the need to expel a student from the institution, just as during biblical times the leper was dismissed from the community. Our Torah tells us that if we are not a Kohen, we are forbidden to issue such a verdict. Without genuinely caring for the student, we have no right to expel them! Furthermore, if no sleep is lost over the fact that there was no choice but to dismiss a student, then it might be the principal or teacher who should be dismissed from their position. This judgmental observation also applies to us as a spouse, employer or friend. It is easy to define somebody as "impure" if we do not understand his or her pain, but it is wrong.

Before we punish, we must first learn how to be a Kohen, the art of genuine caring.

When criticism, punishment or even dismissal is motivated by concern for the person rather than our own rage or incompetence, it will have a very different effect on the person we are punishing. Therefore, in the future before we criticize, we must stop and ask ourselves if we are doing it as a "Kohen" (out of concern and care) or as a result of our stress or anger. If it is the latter, we should remain silent until we can transcend our self-absorption and enter into the world of another human being.

Rabbi Konikov is director of Chabad of the Space and Treasure Coasts and can be reached at contact@jewishbrevard.com.

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