Kenneth Cohen

Rebuke Before Death

The Book of Deuteronomy, or דברים, is actually a thirty-seven day farewell address by Moshe Rabbeinu to the Jewish people. We are also told by way of Midrash that Moshe wrote thirteen complete Sefer Torahs during this time. He gave one copy to each of the twelve tribes, and the thirteenth was placed on a special shelf, extending from the Aron Hakodesh.

The words spoken by Moshe were very harsh and direct. He took full advantage of his right to give rebuke, as he fully understood that his death was imminent.
The Rabbis understood the difficulty in rebuking another person. The Pasuk regarding תוכחה, or rebuke, ends with the words, ולא תשא עליו חטא, that the one giving rebuke should not be carrying a sin. He must not come across as being overly righteous, and insulting.

The rebuke that is given before one’s death, is most effective. The realization that a loved one is leaving this world, makes this final dialogue, that much more effective.
Relatives or friends, might ask what was their final conversation with their loved one about. This will never be forgotten for the rest of their lives.

Shortly before my father of blessed memory, passed away, he had a day of lucidity. He asked me to learn with him, the אגרת הרמב״ן, the Ramban’s letter to his son. The end of the letter has the Ramban urging his son to read this letter once a week, and he will succeed in life.

For nearly twenty-nine years, I have been reading this famous letter, every Friday. Perhaps if my father made his suggestion at an earlier time, it may not have been taken seriously. Moshe Rabbeinu taught the power of rebuke, before one leaves this world, and from personal experience, I learned how true this really is.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for over twenty years while also teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach of Old Katamon. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles. He recently published a series of Hebrew language-learning apps, which are available at