Day 41 of the Omer

קוֹדֶם צִוּוּי הוֹכֵחַ תּוֹכִיחַ, כְּתִיב וְלֹא תִשְׂנָא אֶת אָחִיךָ, כִּי זֶהוּ תְּנַאי מוּקְדָּם לְהוֹכָחָה. וְאַחֲרֵי זֶה כְּתִיב וְלֹא תִשָּׂא עָלָיו חֵטְא, שֶׁאִם לֹא פָּעֲלָה הַהוֹכָחָה, בְּוַדַּאי אַתָּה הָאָשֵׁם, שֶׁלֹּא הָיוּ דְּבָרִים הַיּוֹצְאִים מִן הַלֵּב.

Before the commandment,1 “You shall surely reprove2 [your fellowman],” it is written, “Do not hate your brother [in your heart],” for this is a necessary prerequisite for rebuking one’s fellowman. The same verse continues, “but do not bear a sin because of him.”3 That is, if the reproof is ineffective, it is certainly you who are to blame, for your words did not come from your heart.4

A Mini-Farbrengen

It once happened that a certain young man became so overwhelmed by financial difficulties that he ran away from home and abandoned his wife. The poor woman was now in double straits. Not only was she now forced to fend for herself, but since her husband left no word of his location, she suffered the threat of never being able to remarry.5

The absconded husband was eventually located, but refused to give her a divorce. Until he was able to reorder his life, he was not planning on making any changes, even though others would suffer in the interim.

Somehow, the wife’s family managed to bring him to the Rebbe Maharash in Lubavitch, but even the Rebbe’s words seemed ineffective. The young man remained adamant. Hearing his response, the Rebbe said, “I see that I must do teshuvah.”

“Why?” asked the young man. “If anyone did something wrong, it is me.”

“No,” the Rebbe replied. “Our Sages teach that6 ‘if a person has fear of G‑d, his words will be heeded.’ The fact that my words are not having an effect is a sign that I must do teshuvah.”

The Rebbe’s face grew serious and for several moments he sat in silence. The young man felt something building up inside him, until he finally exclaimed, “Rebbe, I will obey!”


Needless to say, while the details of this particular story may not apply to us, its basic message — that a person whose words are not being heeded must turn his attention inward — is certainly relevant, for “words that come from the heart enter the heart.” Often, the success of communicating spiritual concepts or well-meaning moral lessons depends not on deft techniques of interaction, but on the sincerity of the speaker. Before he holds forth, can he tell himself in all honesty that he has internalized the message he seeks to share, and lives with it consistently?

This acid test of one’s own integrity underlies a beautiful tradition that is honored in the comradely farbrengens of Chabad-Lubavitch chassidim, whenever one chassid seeks to uplift another by sharing an edifying message: While audibly one is speaking to that other fellow, inaudibly one addresses himself.