Simcha Feuerman
Psychology, Torah and the Daf Yomi

Factors That Create Receptivity Toward Criticism Sotah 49 Psychology of the Daf

Our Gemara on Amud Beis laments the state of the world prior to arrival of the Mashiach, including the inability to to accept rebuke:

בְּעִקְבוֹת מְשִׁיחָא חוּצְפָּא יִסְגֵּא וְיוֹקֶר יַאֲמִיר הַגֶּפֶן תִּתֵּן פִּרְיָהּ וְהַיַּיִן בְּיוֹקֶר וּמַלְכוּת תּהָפֵךְ לְמִינוּת וְאֵין תּוֹכַחַת בֵּית וַועַד יִהְיֶה לִזְנוּת וְהַגָּלִיל יֶחֱרַב וְהַגַּבְלָן יִשּׁוֹם וְאַנְשֵׁי הַגְּבוּל יְסוֹבְבוּ מֵעִיר לְעִיר וְלֹא יְחוֹנְנוּ

In the times of the approach of the Messiah, impudence will increase and high costs will pile up. Although the vine shall bring forth its fruit, wine will nevertheless be expensive. And the monarchy shall turn to heresy, and there will be no one will be able to rebuke. The meeting place of the Sages will become a place of promiscuity, and the Galilee shall be destroyed, and the Gavlan will be desolate, and the men of the border shall go round from city to city to seek charity, but they will find no mercy.

Tiferes Yisrael on this Mishna (Yachin) explains that the four conditions described are part of why the rebuke cannot be heard. The four conditions were:

  • Arrogance
  • Lack of financial or personal security
  • Numbing out due to alcohol intoxication of indulgence in other hedonistic diversions
  • Moral confusion and cynicism due to heretical rejection of basic traditions and values

When people are too stressed from their financial or safety concerns they cannot hear rebuke, as the Jews could not listen to Moshe from their “shortness of breath and excruciating work” (Shemos 6:9). Aside from that, arrogance can prevent the message from entering the heart. Similarly, excessive indulgence and hedonism leads to a deadening of concerns and lack of grit necessary for social citizenry and loyalty. Finally, rejection of traditional beliefs and values make one unresponsive to appeals for morality and decency.

So far we have discussed deficiencies on the part of the receiver. However, there also are ways that the provider of the rebuke can sabotage the communication.  The provider must ascertain the ego strength of the receiver and make sure that that criticism can be tolerated.

There is a term known as benevolent honesty, where the recipient senses that the criticism is meant in the best interest of the receiver and not merely to meet security and conformity needs of the rebuker.  Consider this thought experiment:  You see from a distance someone agitated, gesturing and yelling across the street at another person. Instead of that person feeling insulted and saying, “Mind your own business and do not tell me what to do!”, he seems to be receptive and even thankful for this insistent message.  How did this happen contrary to expectations of human nature? The other person wasn’t even talking nicely! The answer is, the person saw that the other guy’s wallet was falling out of his pocket. The intensity and gesticulation was solely in desperation to prevent a loss. When giving rebuke, the receiver can sense what is really in the heart of the rebuker.  If he feels that it is intended for his own good and to protect him, he will tend to appreciate the message even when given with force.

About the Author
Rabbi, Psychotherapist with 30 years experience specializing in high conflict couples and families.
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