The Truth Can Hurt
By Rabbi Daniel Travis
All these are the tribes of Israel, twelve in all, and this is what
father said when he blessed them. He gave each one his own personal
blessing. (Bereshith 49:28)
This verse is ambiguous: though it says he blessed “them” it also states
clearly that each son received a separate blessing. Rashi understood this
to mean that the words, “when he blessed them” refers to a collective
blessing directed to all twelve tribes at once. Not all of Yaakov’s sons
received a personal “blessing” from him; in fact Yaakov criticized some
of them very strongly. “He gave each one his own personal blessing”
therefore refers to what he told each of his sons individually – whether
words of blessing or words of reproof.1
We generally associate blessing with praise; when we bless someone, we
often focus on his positive potential, beseeching God to help him realize
that potential to the fullest. The one receiving the blessing is
essentially good, although he needs God’s help to bring forth all of his
potential. Thus the purpose of a blessing is to help one to improve. If
so, pointing out to someone a negative trait that he must work on helps to
enable him to change his character for the better. That is a much greater
When Rav Zvi Pesach Frank was rav of Jerusalem, he received an extremely
sharp letter of criticism from someone whose opinions were very different
from his own. The rav’s secretary asked his permission to destroy the
letter. Rav Frank refused. He hid the letter away and took it out to read
from time to time, in order to boost his own efforts to work on himself.
He bore no grudge against the person who wrote the letter; on the
contrary, he felt deep appreciation for him.
Once, on his way to a wedding, Rav Frank met a funeral procession. When he
asked whom the funeral was, he was told that the deceased was the person
who had written him the very critical letter. Without a moment’s
hesitation he got out of the taxi that would have taken him to the
wedding, and joined the funeral. On another occasion, the son of the
deceased came to Rav Frank for assistance. Not only did the Rav help him,
but he also showed him tremendous respect.3
Rav Zvi Pesach Frank was on an extremely high spiritual level. Like the
sons of Yaakov, he could accept criticism as a blessing. Nevertheless, as
righteous as Yaakov’s sons were, Yaakov did not reprove them until he was
on his deathbed, for he was afraid that should he criticize them earlier,
they might leave his righteous path and follow Esav’s ways.4 This shows
us that, while we should always try to view criticism as a positive
motivator, we should never feel free to criticize others indiscriminately.
1. Rashi on Bereshith 49:28.
2. Rav Chaim Mordechai Katz, a past Rosh Yeshivah of the Telshe
3. MiDevar Sheker Tirchak, p. 200.
4. Rashi on Devarim 1:1.
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org