Sefer Devarim is the mussar sefer of Moshe Rabbeinu. He recounts the journey of the Jews and gently rebukes them for all that they needed to correct over their 40 year sojourn in the desert. Yalkut Reuveni brings from Sefer HaTzioni that the opening words of Aileh (אלה) ha’devarim, hint to something interesting. Aileh has the numerical value of 36. Moshe began recounting Devarim from Rosh Chodesh Shevat until his passing on 7 Adar. Thus, the entire span was that of 36 days, like the word Aileh. What are we to learn from this? I would like to share 4 lessons that outline how to give proper rebuke.
Rule 1: Clear Plan
First, it is not insignificant that the very first word, aileh, of Devarim hints to the 36 days of rebuke. When we try to talk with someone about that which we would like them to see and correct, it must be a calculated process. We must think through how and what we want to say from the onset, or the conversation may not go smooth. Thus, aileh, hints to this thought out process from the onset.
Rule 2: Change Takes Time
Second, the span of 36 days is very significant. Researchers in the field of psychology and human motivation have proven that in order to change a habit or behavior it takes about 30 days or so. Chazal (Rosh Hashana 9b) themselves hint to this when they tell us that 30 days in a year is considered a year. Thus, Moshe specifically rebuked them over the course of one month and one week to give them time to take his words to heart and to make changes. When we rebuke someone, we must be patient and know that change takes time.
Rule 3: Personalized Lesson
Third, the number 36 is ו״ל in Hebrew. This word ‘lo’ means ‘to him’. Our words must be directed to the one we are speaking to in a way that they are able to hear it. It must make a personal impression, one of love and care. That is the only way it can be heard.
Rule 4: You Are Great!
Lastly, 36 is the number of candles that we light over Chanukah, not counting the shamesh each night (1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8=36). This shows that the purpose of rebuke is to inspire one to shine and to be great. If we are missing any of these perspectives and goals, then we should think twice about giving rebuke, as it will not be effective. When we speak down to someone this causes him to want to ignore us and often to continue in his bad ways out of spite. But when we speak up to someone and build him up, “the action you did is below your dignity,” then you inspire him to grow.
How To Give It Over
Moshe taught us that in order to help other Jews we must think about our words carefully ahead of time, we must be patient, we must speak to the person directly and we must inspire them to shine. When it is aileh, 36, then it will make an impact!