"G‑d said to Moses, speak to the priests... and tell them."1 Struck by the redundancy, speak and tell, our Sages explain that "tell them" was part of the instruction. "Tell the elders to warn the younger ones."2

Curious as to why our Sages employed the unusual term "warn" them rather than the more usual term "teach" them, the Chassidic Masters explain that the Hebrew word for "warn them," lehazhir, also connotes illumination. In other words, don't just rebuke or admonish them; illuminate their souls by highlighting their strengths.3

To explain how this can be done, we must first introduce the doctrine of The Great Test.

The Great Test

I am sometimes asked why G‑d tests certain people more severely than others. There are those who are born with strong predilections for greed or theft. There are others who are extremely vulnerable to anger or jealousy, and yet others, to insecurity and fear. Then there are those who are not inclined by nature to any of the above. Living a moral lifestyle is relatively easy for this class. Why did they luck out, and why are the others so severely tested?

Before endowing us with our genetic inclinations, G‑d endows us with the ability to overcome themOn the principle that G‑d does not test us in ways we cannot overcome,4 the Talmud posits, "He who is greater … is burdened with a stronger [evil] inclination."5 Before He endows us with our genetic inclinations, G‑d endows us with the ability to overcome those very inclinations. The reason some are only mildly tempted is because their capacity for overcoming temptation is limited. Those who are sorely tempted are endowed with a greater capacity for overcoming temptation. The greater the capacity, the greater the temptation. The greater the temptation, the greater the ability to overcome. In this way, the playing field is even. No one is given a greater test than the other; we are each tested in accordance with our abilities.

Regardless of genetic disposition, our decisions to behave in particular ways are products of free choice. Regardless of how heavily we are inclined toward sin, we have the capacity to battle those inclinations and overcome them. To succumb is to choose to not live up to our full capacity.

What We See

We now return to the notion of rebuking by illumination. When we watch a fellow committing a sin, what are we seeing? Do we take note of the sin and unleash a scathing, but utterly ineffective, rebuke, or do we take note of the terrible temptation that led up to the sin?6

Acknowledging our fellow's terrible temptation highlights his strengths. As explained earlier, if someone wasn't particularly strong in this area, he would not have been so sorely tested. Thus, our second option leads not to stinging rebuke, but to admiration and praise. Of course, we don't praise the sin, but our fellow's natural, G‑d-given, ability to overcome it.

Imagine responding to your neighbor's sin with a string of compliments about his incredible spiritual strengths. Tell him his soul is greater than yours, as indicated by the intensity of his temptations. Tell him how jealous you are of his soul, and how much you would give to be born with his natural abilities. Rather than drive a wedge between your neighbor and yourself, you would lay the groundwork for a wonderful relationship.

Praise will achieve the very objective that you seek but cannot easily achieveSuch words of praise will also, incidentally, achieve the very objective that you seek but cannot easily achieve; they will inspire your neighbor to improve his ways. When we human beings receive praise, we naturally respond with a desire to live up to the praise. Offering praise highlights the other's natural abilities and brings out the best in him; it empowers him to overcome future temptation. Admonishment, by contrast, is not particularly inspiring or empowering; it highlights the other's failures and reminds him of his worst moments.

Turn On the Light

It is counterintuitive to respond with praise for a sinner. Those moved to mentor and guide others back to the path of morality are usually inclined to point out the negative behavioral trends that their fellow must reverse. This is the more direct way, but it is also the least effective way. When a room is dark, we simply turn on a light. When a person is filled with the darkness of sin, there is no use trying to fight the darkness. It is much more effective to simply turn on a light.

As G‑d instructed Moses, tell the priests to illuminate their young ones. Shine the light on their strengths; their wish to live up to the praise will naturally follow.7