What is nicer to hear, “You are so great!” or “You need to change”? In this week’s Portion, Moshe Rabbenu says goodbye to Am Yisrael. Usually, at farewell parties people do not start talking about negative past occurrences, but in his goodbye speech, Moshe Rabbenu does not beautify things and does not sweep them under the rug. After 40 years, he speaks honestly and directly, he reminds the People of all their failures, downfalls and sins in order for them to glean lessons for the future.
It is the easiest to only say praise, and to be “all smiles and hearts”, but if you truly care about someone – you do not flatter them, you help them become better. Moshe Rabbenu never did what the multitudes wanted; he did what was needed to be done. Even when he says goodbye, he speaks from a hurting heart and cautions the People.
In a few days from now it will be Tish’a B’Av. Our Sages say that this was one of the reasons for the Destruction: “Jerusalem was destroyed only because people didn’t reproach one another.” They warn us of a society in which everyone flatters everyone else, a society in which no one knows how to give criticism in a respectful way or how to receive criticism in a respectful way. In another place, our Sages ask what is the proper way that one must choose, and the answer is: to love reproach. This is a very high level, which sometimes seems unattainable: to love criticism, to look for opportunities to improve ourselves rather than to look for applause.