In Praise Of Gruffness

We are all in favor of kindness, unity and accord. But let us pause for a moment to praise gruffness, disunity and argument.

Mordecai Kaplan put it this way: “Who would want the prophets to have joined Dale Carnegie’s course in ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People?’” Kaplan’s point is that the prophets had to be contrary, difficult and at times antagonistic. They would have made poor diplomats and, truth to tell, if they were rabbis the congregation would not have renewed their contracts.

Yet the prophetic message had to be delivered in a thunderous voice to arouse the people. There are times when only friction can generate the heat a situation requires. Pretending you are being blunt when you are being abusive or insulting is boorish. But understanding that the situation calls for directness is a legacy reinforced by the great straight talkers of our tradition, in a line running from Moses through the prophets. Sometimes a whisper must give way to a scream.

My father told me once of a Yiddish play where an actor enters a darkened stage, looks at the audience and simply yells, “Gevalt!”

The prophets would have understood.

Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe. His latest book is “David: The Divided Heart” (Yale University Press).


About the Author
Named the most influential Rabbi in America by Newsweek Magazine and one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by the Jerusalem Post, David Wolpe is the Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, California.