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In the aftermath of the Union army’s terrible defeat at the battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia, in December 1862, Abraham Lincoln felt compelled to relieve General Ambrose Burnside of command of the Army of the Potomac. In his place he somewhat reluctantly appointed General Joe Hooker to assume command. The following excerpts from a letter which President Lincoln sent to Hooker on the eve of his appointment are a masterful example of a superior cautioning his subordinate about some of his flaws, while simultaneously subsuming the critical message within a broader context of support and encouragement. Lincoln understood that if he were only to criticize Hooker, his words would fall on deaf ears.
“General: I have placed you at the head of the Army of the Potomac. Of course I have done this upon what appears to me to be sufficient reasons, and yet I think it best for you to know that there are some things in regard to which I am not quite satisfied with you. I believe you to be a brave and skilled soldier, which, of course, I like. I also believe you do not mix politics with your profession, in which you are right. You have confidence in yourself, which is a valuable, if not an indispensable, quality. You are ambitious, which, within reasonable bounds, does good rather than harm; but I think that during General Burnside’s command of the army you have taken counsel of your ambition, and thwarted him as much as you could, in which you did a great wrong to the country and to a most meritorious and honorable brother officer. I have heard, in such a way to believe it, of your recently saying that both the Army and the Government needed a dictator. Of course, it was not for this, but in spite of it, that I have given you the command. Only those generals who gain successes can set up dictators. What I ask of you now is military success, and I will risk the dictatorship….And now beware of rashness. Beware of rashness, but with energy and sleepless vigilance go forward and give us victories.”
Delivering constructive criticism and rebuke—tochacha—constitutes a very important mitzvah. However, precisely because effective rebuke requires a delicate balance between encouragement and criticism, it is a mitzvah that can only truly be practiced by a select few. Rav Shlomo Wolbe, in his monograph on education, Zeriah U’Binyan B’chinuch quotes (p.26) Rav Chaim Volozhiner who stated “nowadays harsh words are not heard.” As such, Rav Chaim maintained that: “A person whose disposition prevents him from speaking gently and who gets angry quickly at people who sin, especially when they don’t heed his words, is exempt from the mitzvah of rebuke.”
The importance of carefully crafting criticism in a manner that contains the rebuke within a framework of positive encouragement can be seen at the end of this week’s parsha when Yitzchak enjoins Esav to refrain from marrying a Canaanite. The Torah describes (28:1) how Yitzchak first blessed Esav and only then did he discuss the issue of marriage with him. Rav Chaim Zuckerman, in his anthology Otzar Chaim, quotes a beautiful insight in the name of the Chofetz Chaim. The Chofetz Chaim explains that the point of Yitzchak’s discussion with Esav at the conclusion of the parsha was quite obvious. He wanted to rebuke him regarding his current marital practices and to direct him to repent and pursue a better and holier approach. However, Yitzchak realized that if he got straight to the point, Esav would ignore him. Therefore, Yitzchak first blessed Esav, thus encouraging him and enabling the rebuke to be framed in an overall context of positive growth. Only in this carefully crafted way would Yitzchak stand a chance of influencing Esav’s behavior.
Leaders often find themselves having to criticize and rebuke their followers. But to be truly effective, leaders must carefully craft their words. The point of the rebuke is ultimately to inspire followers to believe that they have the ability to achieve great things. Delivering rebuke without properly planning the delivery and fine-tuning the message might convince a leader that he has done what he needs to do, but it will not get his followers to do what needs to get done.
About the Author: Rabbi Dr. David Hertzberg is the principal of the Yeshivah of Flatbush Middle Division and is an adjunct assistant professor of History at Touro College.
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German poet Heinrich Heine: “Since the Exodus, freedom has always been spoken with a Hebrew accent.”
Outside of the High Holidays, Pesach is probably the most celebrated biblical holiday for the majority of Jews.
Her Children, Her Whim
‘Kesubas Bnin Dichrin’
Question: Must one spend great sums of money and invest much effort in making one’s home kosher for Passover? Not all of us have such unlimited funds.
Yachatz is not mentioned in the Gemara. What is the foundation for yachatz?
First, the punishment for eating chametz on Pesach is karet, premature death at the Hand of God.
Why is it necessary to invite people to eat from the korban Pesach?
How was I going to get to Manhattan? No cabs were going, we didn’t have a car, and many people who did have cars had no gas.
Did you ever notice that immediately upon being granted our freedom from Egypt, the Jewish people accepted upon themselves the yoke of a new master – Hashem?
Why does Torah make the priests go through a long and seemingly bizarre induction ceremony?
Often people in important positions separate from everyday people & tasks-NOT the Kohen Gadol
You smuggled tefillin into the camp? How can they help? Every day men risked their lives to use them
Before we embark on a major project or make a fateful decision we must get a wide-range of views and perspectives.
Three years of war and the loss of one-tenth of Britain’s men is not too great a price to pay.
This ability to remain calm under pressure and continue to see the situation clearly is a hallmark of Yehuda’s leadership.
Leaders must always pay attention to the importance of timing.
Realizing that his death was immanent and he had only a few more moments, Moshe focuses on doing the most important thing: he runs to Bnei Yisrael and blesses them.
Perhaps the most important leadership lesson Elkana taught us is to never underestimate the difference a single person can make.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/parshat-toldot/2011/11/24/
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