“Get an editor. Your first sentence has a mistake.”

Ouch. I quickly reread the e‑mail that I’d just been sent. My face flushed with embarrassment.

I was angry, too. Why did he have to be rude about it? Why not write, “Great e‑mail; just wanted to mention that you have a small typo in the first line. Thanks for including me on your e‑mail list”?

Then “Get an editor. Your first sentence has a mistake”again, the point remained, either way he broke it to me: I really need to double-check my work before I hit the “send” button. And his blunt response would probably do a better job of reminding me to check my work the following week.

Would you rather that others are nice to you, or honest with you?

Imagine this: A couple goes for therapy, and immediately the therapist sees their dysfunctional dynamic. The husband is intimidating and controlling. The wife is timid and eager to please.

“I’m going to be candid here,” says the therapist. “Mr. Goldberg, you’re being unfair and selfish—it’s really not nice! Mrs. Goldberg, get a backbone and stand up for yourself, and your husband will respect you more! Have a great day. See you next week.”

Would they go back? How would Mr. and Mrs. Goldberg respond to this honest (and oversimplified) feedback from the therapist? They may very well be insulted and grow too defensive to reflect on the therapist’s advice. For most of us to be receptive to advice, we need to feel safe. That’s why a critique that’s couched in compliments always goes over better.

If your critique was not received well, then it wasn’t received at all. It probably did more harm than good. Honesty isn’t always the constructive option. Honesty hurts, and no one likes being hurt.

On the other hand, if you can handle the truth, honest feedback is eye-opening and very useful. If you’re brave enough to handle a greater truth than your own without becoming defensive, then you’re more likely to become a better person.

Some people put ideas before people. Their main objective is to convey truth. Their secondary objective is to make the truth comfortable to hear. Others put people before ideas. Their primary goal is to make truth palatable enough to be received. Often, that means packaging one’s message wisely.

Moses put truth before people, while his brother Aaron put people before truth.

Moses was the perfect teacher. He understood the truth better than anyone else, and spent his whole career elucidating the truth of the Torah. To Moses, not only was the Torah the objective truth, it was the only truth, the “be-all and end-all.” To learn from Moses was to experience his panorama of reality.

Aaron put people before truth. Here is the way the Talmud records Aaron’s relationship with others:

When Aaron went on his way and a wicked person encountered him, Aaron greeted him. The next day, that man wanted to commit a sin, but thought, “Woe is to me! How will I raise my eyes afterwards and look at Aaron? I am ashamed before him, for he greeted me.”

When two people quarreled, Aaron went and sat down with one of them and said to him, “My son, know that your friend has said, ‘I am ashamed before him because I have sinned against him.’” Aaron would sit with him until he had dispelled the ill feeling from his heart. Then Aaron would go and sit with the other one and say to him, “Know that your friend is saying, ‘Woe is to me! How shall I raise my eyes and look at my friend? I am ashamed before him because I have sinned against him.’” Aaron would sit with him until he had dispelled the ill feeling from his heart. When the two friends later met, they embraced and kissed each other.

There were thousands in Israel who were called by the name Aaron, for if not for Aaron, they would not have come into the world. Aaron made peace between husband and wife so that they came together, and they named the child that was born after him!1

“Your friend has said, ‘I am ashamed before him because I have sinned against him,’” Aaron said. Perhaps that was bit of an inflation of the truth, but it was a brilliant tactic. When we fight, we forget the tenderness in the person we hate. When our boxing gloves are on, we’re ready for a showdown. But then Aaron reminds us that the person we hate is also a person with a conscience, a person who values the relationship. From that place, it’s much easier to shift out of anger.G‑d Himself lied for the sake of peace

G‑d Himself lied for the sake of peace. When Abraham and Sarah were given news from the angels that they would have a child, Sarah laughed and said to herself, “After I have become worn out, will I have smooth flesh? And also, my master (Abraham) is old.” Yet when G‑d subsequently confronted Abraham, He said, “Why did Sarah laugh, saying, ‘Is it really true that I will give birth, although I am old?’” G‑d didn’t make mention of the fact that Sarah also called her husband “old,” in order to prevent any marital discord between Abraham and Sarah.

So Aaron effectively inflated the truth a little bit, and in turn repaired friendships and relationships that seemed irreparable. He skillfully painted the estranged partner as vulnerable and misunderstood instead of stubborn and arrogant. As Hillel says, “Be one of the disciples of Aaron. He loved peace and pursued peace; loved people and drew them close to the Torah."2

Note the order here: Love people first, and only afterwards bring them close to Torah. And even if you never succeed in bringing them close to Torah, you should continue to love people.

The Torah hints to Aaron’s exceedingly loving nature in the following way. In describing Moses’ passing, the Torah says, “Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died. His eye had not dimmed, nor had he lost his [natural] freshness. The sons of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab for thirty days; and the days of weeping for the mourning for Moses came to an end.”3

When Aaron passed on, the Torah describes the people’s response a little bit differently: “The whole congregation saw that Aaron had expired, and the entire house of Israel wept for Aaron for thirty days.”4

Rashi explains the reason for the different reactions: “Since Aaron used to pursue peace and bring peace between a man and his fellow man and between a woman and her husband, it says [at Aaron’s passing], ‘The whole house of Israel wept for him.’”

The Torah explicitly omits the expression “the entire house of Israel wept” when describing Moses’ passing, so as to allude to Aaron’s greatness. But what about Moses? Why speak disparagingly about him? So what if he wasn’t as effective as Aaron at breaking up fights? Moses just passed—eulogize him! Pay tribute to him! Why immediately compare him to Aaron and highlight Aaron’s strengths at helping people get along?

Moses also loved people and treasured peace. But one thing he couldn’t do was compromise the integrity of his words—if he said something, it had to be absolutely true. It was because he loved and respected the Jews that he always spoke the truth.

But at the end of Moses’ If he said something, it had to be absolutely truelife, when he finally had a few moments to reflect upon his role as a teacher and a mentor to others, he allowed himself to think about Aaron’s masterful way of connecting to people, pulling them in with “thick cords of love”5 and thereby melting the ego’s resistance to truth. And Moses was struck by the depth of ahavat yisrael, love for his fellow Jew, that his brother had displayed over his lifetime.

And that’s why the Torah records Moses’ own passing differently than Aaron’s, hinting to the fact that only the men would mourn for Moses. Although he’d dedicated himself to ahavat yisrael for 40 years with tireless dedication, in his humility Moses still looked at Aaron and felt, “You did better.”

The Torah leaves us with a poignant lesson learned from Moses. He may have been the greatest leader of all time, but he was always open to learn more effective tools to reach the heart of another Jew.6