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Avrohom Leventhal
Avrohom Leventhal

Loving Rebuke

The Parsha in Chesed – Vayigash

A group of seasoned educators were once having a discussion reminiscing about their student days. The question arose as to which particular teacher had the most impact on them. Each member of the group shared an anecdote or lesson that had made a lasting impression. The one “wining” story that seemed to impress everyone did not relate to teaching style or volume of material. This incident centered around how a teacher displayed so much sensitivity for the students that he was willing to belittle himself rather than possibly embarrass even one child.

In this classroom, the system of discipline was to write a child’s name on the board for breaking any of the class rules. Each subsequent infraction would be given a check next to that child’s name. At recess or lunchtime, the list of “offenders” would be addressed with the appropriate consequence for their actions. Once the “sentence” was served, the names were erased and tomorrow (or after recess) was a new beginning.

Depending on the day, there could be many names on the board for such actions as talking during class, passing a note to another or getting out of your seat without permission.

The system worked well as it didn’t interrupt the flow of the class, gave those students time to reflect and soften the “blow” with a delay in the consequence.

This teacher’s class had a great reputation of functioning well.

One day, the principal of the school walked into class with a group of very distinguished visitors. Before the group had a chance to see the board, the teacher backed up to the corner in which the names were written. He discreetly (and skillfully) wiped off all of the names written, using his freshly pressed suit as the chalkboard eraser.

He then welcomed the principal and his entourage, explained the lesson and cordially escorted them to the door to continue on their visit.

The teacher then turned back to the board to write the introduction to the next lesson.

That classroom of elementary school children stared in awe at the chalk stained suit of their beloved teacher. Not one child giggled as they realized his sacrifice for their dignity. Rather than have the principal et al see who might have been “misbehaving”, he chose to stain his suit by erasing their names. Better to soil his suit than have even one child ashamed in front of the principal.

The lesson of sensitivity to the potential embarrassment of another trumped the effects that any consequence would achieve.

Although this teacher was already beloved by most of his students, the new chalk inspired design became a badge of honor and respect whose significance stayed with them for a lifetime.

In this week’s Parsha we encounter what might be one of the most famous incidents of potential embarrassment and “calling out.” After all of the years of separation, Yosef reveals himself to his brothers.

This revelation was not only a reunion. It was also the realization that Yosef’s dreams had in fact come true. Despite their efforts to quell his prophecy, Yosef was now a prince in Egypt and appointed by G-d to be their salvation.

Yosef would have every right to “make the most of the moment” and deliver the ultimate “I told you so.” The years of pain and separation could have manifested itself through anger and punishment.

Yosef the “tzadik” however, chose to protect his brothers from as much shame and embarrassment as possible. He sent everyone out of the room and simply said אני יוסף העוד אבי חי

It was a gentle introduction, made in total privacy in order to lessen the shock and preserve their dignity.

A lesson for anyone who is in the position of having to rebuke, discipline or “call out” another.

As parents, friends, teachers, supervisors and just plain people, there are times that we must guide or correct one who may be doing something harmful to themselves or others.

The impact of the message can be determined by the method of the messenger.

Loving and caring for someone means that we want what is best for them. When rebuking or disciplining with sensitivity, care and concern, the recipient will be much more likely to accept the message rather than by yelling, screaming or simply dishing out punitive measures.

Yosef took the time to consider the best method to reveal himself and gently rebuke his brothers. He created the optimum atmosphere in which to reunite with his brothers thus setting the stage for the Jewish people’s sojourn in Egypt.

Let us take this lesson from Yosef. There will be times that we must rebuke and correct those under our care or supervision.

Like Yosef, we should deliberate as to how and when our words and actions, even in discipline, will have the greatest effect in building up the other person through love, respect and dignity.

Shabbat Shalom

About the Author
Rabbi Avrohom Leventhal, noted educator and speaker, is the Executive Director at Lema'an Achai.
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