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Right Way to Rebuke – Parshat Devarim

Disciplining our children is one of the greater challenges we have as parents. What is the right way? What is the wrong way? What should we aim for? What should we avoid at any cost? There are biblical pronouncements: “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them”1 which has been popularized and loosely translated as “spare the rod spoil the child.” Is this absolute? How do we make sense out of this?1a

Moshe Rabbeinu, our great teacher, teaches us this lesson as well by example. In Parshat Devarim, Moshe starts delivering his final messages to the people just 30 days prior to his death. He at times chastises, at times cajoles, at times encourages and at times shows his love. Two hidden ideas in this soliloquy were highlighted by Rashi, the great medieval commentator. In his very first comment in the parsha, also the first portion of the book of Devarim, he writes that Moshe chose to not openly chastise the people for their sins because of his care for their dignity.2 Two verses later, Rashi points out the second idea and writes that Moshe only chastised them near his death and not throughout their years together.3 He then quotes a Midrash that states that there are four reasons to rebuke only while approaching death.

1. So that rebuke will not become a repetitive act which will eventually become ineffective.4

2. Not to embarrass the child in front of others.

3. That the child not hate the parent.

4. So that the child will not flee.

This clearly does not mean never rebuke. Or that Moshe never rebuked. The Torah is full of stories where Moshe gets angry. But that was it. It rarely got mentioned again………..until Moshe’s final month. And even then, it was only through a hint.

These two ideas – not to rebuke after the fact too harshly and not to repeat the rebuke til much later – Rashi points out for us. They are hidden in the text but vitally important.

If during a particular situation someone, anyone – child, coworker, friend – needs rebuke then by all means. Say what’s on your mind. But don’t harp on it. Say what you need to and then go on. That is making a choice about how you rebuke. You are no longer just reacting. Take charge of the situation without dredging up old errors and getting bogged down in the past. You are living the present!

Parenting, probably the area where rebuke is most in demand, is challenging for most of the world. There are hundreds of books and websites offering the newest and best rules for parenting.5 A lot of information is out there. What is right for me? Which is best for my child? How do I rebuke “properly”? I can answer that with another quote from Mishlei. “Educate your youth according to his way.”6 Each child has a different way. As parents we need to locate his/her way. We have been chosen to be the parents of that child. It is a responsibility. It is a challenge.

It requires a lot from us. It demands of us to be alert to differences between our children. Yet we only receive this challenge because we are able to meet it. We have the capability to be responsible, good parents. We can use what we’ve learned from Moshe Rabbeinu. We can use what we’ve learned from our parents. We can use what we’ve learned from reading books, attending seminars and talking with friends. This does not necessarily determine the outcome.

But we need to try.


1. Mishlei(Proverbs) 13:24

1a. There is a nice discussion on this sentence where this quote appears. “One who spares his staff hates his child. What staff was King Solomon talking about? A staff is solid and does not change. A staff is used for support on one’s way. For parenting rules to successfully show our children that we are trying to build them in ways that are good for them, the rules must be solid and consistent; they must support the growth of the children on their paths, and protect the needs of the parents. The staff is the “measuring stick” that the parent can use to show the child that there are realities, principles that obligate us all.” Read more here.

2. Rashi – Devarim 1:1

3. ibid. v.3

4. Elisabeth Lukas, a student of Viktor Frankl, discusses this in ‘Meaning In Suffering’, p. 31-2

5. A partial list: A. Children: The Challenge – Rudolf Dreikurs

B. How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk – Faber & Mazlish

C. Raising Your Children to Care – Miriam Adahan

D. (Hebrew)

6. Mishlei 22:6