Thursday, March 24, 2011


Shabbat Parah
Parshat Shemini
17 Adar II

My friend Rabbi Jacob Fine’s dad, Dr. Lawrence Fine, is a scholar of Kabbalah. I was a rather hardheaded and foolish student (such may not have changed), and derided all things mystical. Hearing Dr. Fine teach was the first step into a now deep relationship with Jewish mysticism.

At the time he was researching mystical fellowships - haburah, they were called - that were created for the spiritual ascension of their members. One feature of these haburah struck me then, and stays with me still: a promise to accept any and all criticism from another member of the haburah, with an open heart and without complaint. 

This sounds like a nightmare. The world is plenty full of people willing to tell others, in excruciating detail, just what they’re doing wrong. 

Nonetheless, something in my soul yearns for this kind of honesty in my life. People believe that morality and a sense of right action are innate in us, but I do not know how find wholeness without recourse to the wisdom of others.

Good criticism is quite rare. Most of our reproof, consciously or not, addresses our own struggles and not the reality of the other’s character. It is also full of blind anger, and to criticize well one must care deeply for the other. Few of us achieve such elevated perspective.

But when it comes, it is a gift. Without the careful corrections of others, we are adrift. Their words set us aright.
Do not criticize a fool, for he will hate you;
Criticize a wise person, and she will love you.
Mishlei (Proverbs) 9:8 

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