Off the Pulpit


One of the lessons I have learned over decades in the rabbinate is how hard it is to criticize one’s own. People who will criticize other countries, or the other party, will not turn a disapproving eye on their own. On social media there is an unending parade of disparagement, but almost all of it disparages the side the author opposes anyway. Endless rhetorical bombs are lobbed over the fence, but few are exploded in one’s own camp.

Why is it so wrenching to criticize one’s own? In part because you do not only challenge beliefs, you also lose allies and friends. It is hurtful to those with whom you share community to be the one who rebukes.

Knowing this makes the Torah that much more powerful and impressive. Here is scripture that is relentless in its criticism of the very people to whom it is addressed. The prophets, overflowing with love of Israel, nonetheless lambast them for their moral flaws. There is plenty of criticism of other nations, of course; but we take it that much more seriously from a tradition that is ready to be honest and direct at home as well.