Torah Portion: Making Sure Your Criticism is Constructive

Maybe not a kosher lunch, but perhaps a kosher criticism...

Will Gotkin is a regular contributor to Gather the Jews.

Last week in our study of Parshas Tazria we discussed the importance of words and the danger we may incur by speaking ill of others. Our words are indeed powerful and can be used to help as well as to harm. Sometimes helping another person may involve giving him or her some constructive criticism, but how do we know our criticism is motivated by genuine concern for the other’s well-being and not by a need to bolster our own ego?

This week’s parsha, Parshas Metzora discusses the process that a metzora – a person afflicted with a skin disease for having committed the sin of lashon hara (relating unkind, but true information about another) – underwent in order to become purified.

The Hebrew word metzora is a combination of three words – motze (shem) ra. Motze shem ra is a term which means “one who speaks ill of another” when that which he says is false i.e. slander or spreading a false rumor.[1]

The Torah tells us that only a Kohen (priest) had the power to declare someone a metzora. A Kohen must embody loving kindness for his fellow. This is one reason why even today Kohenim have the mitzvah of blessing the congregation. Only a Kohen could declare one a metzora, because if one were to proclaim that another was ritually impure without having a pure and true love for that person, the proclamation itself would be a form of motze shem ra.

Rabbi Abraham Twerski, M.D. suggests a good way to know whether our criticism is constructive or destructive. He writes that if we are willing to assist the person whom we are criticizing in correcting the defect or problem, the criticism is constructive. If we’re not interesting in helping the person to do right or at least directing him/her to those who can help, we should leave the criticism to someone who is willing.[2] However, Rabbi Twerski adds that if another seems to criticize us without concern for helping us to improve, we should still consider the comment. Even if the criticizer’s intent wasn’t noble, the observation may still be valid.[3]

Our primary job is to act with kindness toward others. The Baal Shem Tov teaches that if we find fault with another, it is a reflection of our own faults. We would all do well to remember this before we point out deficiencies in other people. Furthermore, we must make sure our care and concern for others is genuine before we pronounce judgment on them.


[1] Pearls for the Shabbos Table. From the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Y. Alperowitz

[2] It’s Not As Tough As You Think. Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, MD. 185-186

[3] Ibid, 186