Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Motives of a Critic

Art: Norman Rockwell

Source: Based on Likutei Sichos, Lubavitcher Rebbe
Parshas Pinchas

The tribes appeared to have convincing proof that Pinchas' motives were not pure [Rashi] but they were mistaken. This teaches us a powerful lesson whenever we are tempted to find fault with another person's good deeds and question their motives.  One can never know another's true intentions.  So long as a person is doing good, he should not be put down or mocked, even if one has a "solid" proof that the person is insincere. And in any case, even if it were true, and the person indeed had ulterior motives, we are taught always to study Torah and perform mitzvos even for the wrong reasons, since in this way one will eventually come to have pure motives.

A deeper question here is: Where does the desire come from to find fault in people who are doing something good?  In our case, the tribes appeared to have holy intentions: they were concerned that Pinchas had slighted the honor of Moshe by taking the law into his own hands.  Similarly, a person may imagine that he has a low tolerance for other people's bad intentions because he himself is humble, and thus he finds the pride of others distasteful.

In truth, however, the reverse is likely the case.  The fact that a person criticizes the good deeds of another is probably because the critic himself is proud and does not like the idea that somebody else accomplished something that he did not.  Of course, he will not admit this, even to himself, because his pride makes him lazy, and recognizing that somebody else has accomplished something makes it more uncomfortable to remain lazy.  Therefore, his arrogance leads him to put down the other person's good deeds, so they do not wound his pride or inspire him to be a better person, which would require effort.

Furthermore, even if somebody's mitzvah observance does have overtones of haughtiness, the critic's pride is nevertheless more distasteful.  For, ultimately, the person who "showed off" with his mitzvah was at least honest about his pride, and did not attempt to conceal it.  The critic, however, cannot tolerate the truth that he too is proud, and he thus stoops to dishonesty, veiling his pride in a "cloak" of humility and righteous indignation.

The lesson is obvious: It is much wiser to be an activist than a critic.  For a little pride can make criticism destructive, rather than constructive, but a good deed always remains good, regardless of the intention.

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