Criticize Like the Baal Shem Tov

In Keser Shem Tov it is brought in the name of the Baal Shem that one should never criticize someone or “help” them with the intent of making yourself feel better than them. He says there that especially a talmid chochom has to be careful not to do this, since there is a certain amount of arrogance that comes with being a talmid chochom. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, like the gemoro in Maseches Sotah says a talmid chochom needs a minuscule amount arrogance in order that he should have the confidence to give advice and people should listen to him.

In relation to this idea of not making yourself bigger than your peers, specifically through putting them down, is an interesting idea from the Ateres Tzvi in Sur MeRa. The Zidichoiver says there that the true mitzva of V’Ohavto L’Reiacho Komocho (Love your fellow like yourself) is not to love your friend more than you love yourself, nor to love them less; rather the mitzvah is to view yourself as on equal ground to them in all ways. Now the mitzva of V’Ohavto L’Reiacho Komocho is juxtaposed with the mitzvah of Tochacha (rebuke). What we can learn from this is that proper Tochacha doesn’t come from a place of hatred and seeking to criticize a fellow Yid, rather the desire to give Tochacha for a friend who is erring is to come entirely from a place of love.

Now we can see something quite practical, as this is unfortunately not so uncommon an issue. Rather than taking the approach of belittling others, which the Baal Shem very specifically speaks against, or putting yourself in an exalted position so as to criticize those who may err; in order to help our fellows do better in various inyonim we must take an approach founded in love and accepting our equality from the perspective of the Pinteleh Yid. Instead of screaming about how much wrong there is in the world, we have to work to express the beauty of Torah and bring that out for the world to see. Seeing as a small light dispels much darkness, a well-known quote attributed to various rebbeim, it is far more important to cultivate a strong fire than to point out at the darkness; l’moshol (metaphorically speaking) a man pointing at darkness and declaring that he can’t see is practically worthless, whereas one who has command over fire can generate illumination in the darkness and find the proper path for himself and others to travel. Though one must recognize there is darkness in order to know there is need for light, it is crucial to move beyond recognition of darkness and proceed towards bringing more light to dispel that same darkness.

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