“Reprove a wise man, and he will love you” (Proverbs 9:8).

Not too many people respond to criticism with increased affection. Even when it comes from someone whom they know has the best intentions (like a parent). In fact, most people really dislike being critiqued. And yet the Torah encourages people to give rebuke to each other.

In English there are quite a few synonyms for criticizing someone: reprove, rebuke, reproach, chastize, etc. In Hebrew, there is one term tochacha (noun form). Although “reproof” is close, tochacha has no perfect translation in English because the implication of the word is true constructive criticism. Tochacha means rebuke that is given for the best interest of the other person, and only when that person is able to process it. That’s a very tall order.

In the Midrash Genesis Rabbah 54:3, this verse from Proverbs is quoted in connection to Rabbi Jose ben Rabbi Chanina’s statement that “Love unaccompanied by reproof is not love.” When people are honest with each other, when they critique them for the purpose of helping them become a better person, that is love.

This dynamic is not limited to only personal interactions but can affect diplomatic and business relationships as well. “Reish Lakeish said: ‘Reproof leads to peace, hence (Genesis 21:25) ‘And Abraham reproved Avimelech’” (ibid.) Abraham met with Avimelech, the Philistine king, and reproached him about allowing his men to steal a common well. Because the rebuke was given with the right tone, Avimelech heard it without getting angry. He denied his involvement, and Abraham and Avimelech immediately made a peace treaty.

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