Parashat Sav- Accepting Criticism
The prophecy read as the Haftara for Parashat Sav comes from the Book of Yirmiyahu (7), and in this prophecy, Yirmiyahu criticizes the people for offering sacrifices without undergoing a process of repentance and change. Parashat Sav speaks about the sacrifices, and this prophecy reminds us that sacrifices alone do not suffice. In order to achieve G-d’s atonement and favor, the sacrifices must be accompanied by a genuine commitment to improve one’s conduct.
Yirmiyahu here bemoans the fact that Beneh Yisrael had acted "according to the will of their evil heart" (7:25), and that when G-d sent prophets to criticize the people and urge them to repent, "they did not listen to Me, they did not turn their ear; they made their necks stiff, and were worse than their fathers" (7:26). The people refused to accept the prophets’ rebuke, stubbornly persisting in their wayward conduct.
Rav Avraham Pam (1913-2001), in discussing this Haftara, elaborates on the importance of humbly accepting criticizing. Our instinct upon hearing criticism is to reject it, to insist that we are correct and that we have no need to change anything. But if we never accept criticism, we will never grow. There are many improper things that we do of which we are unaware until somebody draws our attention to the fact that we act wrongly. Thus, we cannot possibly hope to change and become better if we refuse to accept criticism, to listen with an open mind and ear when people point out to us our mistakes and wrongdoing.
Rav Pam related a humorous story about his father, Rav Meir Pam (1879-1969), who served as a Rabbi in Brownsville. Once, Rav Meir found it necessary to harshly rebuke the congregation, and delivered a sermon critical of their conduct. Afterward, one of the members approached him and said, "Wow, Rabbi, you really gave it to them!"
"I had to bite my lip not to laugh or say anything," Rav Meir later told his son. "He was exactly the person I was talking to!"
This exemplifies the natural tendency that we all have when it comes to criticism. It’s uncomfortable to admit that we act wrongly, so we prefer to deflect it, to insist that our behavior is perfect and beyond reproach, and it is everyone else who needs to hear criticism.
We did not come into this world perfect, nor will we ever achieve perfection. Our goal, however, must be to constantly grow and improve. And in order for this to happen, we must keep our minds open, humbly acknowledging that we are far from perfect, and being prepared to accept the uncomfortable criticism given to us by others. If we live this way, then we will continually grow and become better, thereby fulfilling our purpose here in this world.