The end of Ki Tavo contained the section known as the תוכחה, or rebuke. The Jewish people are given a stern warning as to what the consequences will be if they abandon the commandments.
In today’s world, accepting criticism is not very popular. If rabbis of congregations, give too much rebuke, they could lose their jobs. This is because we live in a “feel good” environment. People would rather escape reality, rather than face reality. Rebuke is a sobering reminder that we need to look at ourselves and realize there are things we need to correct.
There is a verse in the Book of Proverbs that says, “Rebuke a wise man, gain a friend. Rebuke a fool, gain an enemy. The message here is that no matter our age, there is always room for improvement. There is another verse in the Torah that has a little play on words. It says, מפני שיבה תקום, which is normally translated as the obligation to stand and show respect for the elderly. Some interpret it to mean, “Before you become old, wake up!” We need to accumulate Mitzvot, as long as we are alive.
Self improvement comes up about when we are willing to accept that we need improve. The Mishna in Pirkei Avot tells us that one of the forty-eight ways to acquire the Torah is, אוהב את התוכחות, loving rebuke.
It is obviously much more pleasant to be told how wonderful we are. But it is much more productive for us to keep trying to be better. This is related to an overall awareness of our own reality. We will be appreciative of all that G-d has given us, and appreciative of every kindness that comes our way.
Loving rebuke falls under a general category of עבודת נפש, “working on our soul.” This is a lifelong task with the goal of coming closer to G-d, and fulfilling our life’s mission.