The rebbe did not flatter anyone. He was always careful to rebuke the Chasidim when they acted inappropriately. For example, as is well known, it is the custom for a rebbe to distribute shiyarim during the tisch. Many Chasidim would push their fellow and grab whatever they could get as if it was a matter of life and death. In Viznitz, the rebbe would often rebuke them for this. “How can you grab shirayim? Don’t you know that the modest kohanim would not grab a portion of the show breads? Clearly, one should not push and grab even in holy matters. Instead of shoving one’s fellows, he should relax and take shiyarim only if he can do so without pushing his friend.”
Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.” “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? –Mark 9:17-19
We see that Jesus and the Ahavas Chaim of Viznitz have something in common. They both find it necessary to rebuke their disciples when they display inappropriate or even faithless behavior. Both Masters seem to be a little harsh, but perhaps that’s because there’s so much at stake. If the ordinary Jew is commanded to rebuke a fellow Jew who is sinning or about to sin (based on Leviticus 19:17), how much more so should a Teacher be obligated to rebuke his disciples?
In Judaism (and I’ve said this before) the commandment to rebuke the sinner is compared to saving someone’s life. If a Jew sees a fellow Jew moving away from God by entering into sin and does nothing, it’s like being a lifeguard, seeing a person drowning in the ocean, and not lifting a finger to save him. If one regular person has that level of responsibility toward another, then a Teacher and Rabbi must have a tremendous responsibility to guide his disciples into a proper way of relating to other people and to God. To fail to do so, from his exalted position as Rabbi and tzaddik, would be not only failing his students, but failing God.
However, if you’ve ever been rebuked by an angry, yelling teacher, boss, or parent, you know it doesn’t feel good. Not only that, but you know that being yelled at might not result in you correcting your behavior. If you are even the slightest bit rebellious, your response on the surface might be to appear to be obedience, but inside, your opposition might continue to grow, leading your closer to sin rather than returning you to God.
The story from the daf continues, showing us a different path.
But there is another—often more effective—way to deal with those who are wayward. When Rav Dovid Tzvi Shneiblag, zt”l, was confronted with a student who did not comport himself properly, he would call the student in and open a meseches Chulin to a different statement on today’s daf. He would begin to read in a very emotional tone, . As he did so he shed copious tears. “Rav Yehudah says, ‘One who teaches an improper student falls into Gehinom…Teaching an improper student is like throwing a stone to Merucules…’ ”
As he read, crying, the student could not help but feel moved, until he also cried. The rav would gently explain that certain actions were not befitting for a ben Torah and the young man would tearfully agree to change. Many students later recounted that it was this short time with the rav which galvanized them to make a complete change of direction.”
I don’t believe we have any specific example of Jesus using such a method of “rebuke” when addressing his disciples, but I do not doubt there was a time when the disciples did shed tears and likely did recall everything that Jesus was trying to teach them. Sadly, it was when they thought it was too late that they came to this realization. Peter is an especially poignant example.
While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him. “You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus,” she said.
But he denied it. “I don’t know or understand what you’re talking about,” he said, and went out into the entryway.
When the servant girl saw him there, she said again to those standing around, “This fellow is one of them.” Again he denied it.
After a little while, those standing near said to Peter, “Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.”
He began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about.”
Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept. –Mark 14:66-72
After all of his protests to the contrary, Peter utterly failed his Master. His tears at that moment were bitter but they must have been much worse once Jesus was dead and the disciples went into hiding. Small wonder that, when at the first of the week, Miriam of Magdalah told the disciples that the tomb was empty, Peter ran all the way to see for himself (John 20:1-4). Hope beyond possibility had given him a second chance. But the agony of his failure and even the tears were not over yet.
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. –John 21:15-17
Peter denied Jesus three times. After the resurrection, Jesus asks Peter three times if he really loves him. Peter would have to be sure of this, for the days were coming when the Master would not be with him, and Peter would have to carry his faith without doubt.
Tears can be more difficult than a loud, angry rebuke, but they can also be the instrument by which we feel the sorrow, rather than angry rebellion, that will inspire us to repent, to turn to God, and to really go in the other direction, walking away from the person opposing God we once were, and to the man or woman of God we were created to be.