The Psychology of Criticism

We don’t criticize to put down others, we’re good people. We criticize because it makes us feel involved. but its “empty calories”

No one likes to be criticized. Many of us may appreciate it, but we still dislike it. It’s not fun to hear someone find faults in something you put in hours of work into.

The golden rule of Hillel, “don’t do onto someone else what you wouldn’t want to do you,” is generally kept. As a civilized person, you won’t park in someone else’s driveway.


Simply because you know what it feels like to be blocked out of your own driveway.

We also know what it feels like to be criticized, so why do we so many times fall into the trap of criticizing our spouse, our teenager, and our fellow Chassid’s way of doing what he understands to be the Rebbe’s will?


There was once a Jew who finished his life mission in this world and came up to the heavenly court. As his life was being examined, it turned out that he had exactly 50-50, half merits and half sins.

“You can choose where to go, to Gan Eden or to Gehenom,” the heavenly court declared his verdict.

“May I inspect the two before I decide?” asked the man.

“Yes, you may,” he was told.

“Where to first?” asked the angels.

“Let me see Gehenom first,” he said and was promptly taken there.

What he saw startled him. He was ushered into a lavish, well-lit banquet hall. Soft melodious music was being played by a 20-piece band; uniformed waiters were serving delectable foods to the many assembled “guests” sitting around the tables, many of them, people quite familiar to him from his hometown.

“Is this Gehenom?” he wondered to himself. As he approached one of the tables to get a closer look, he quickly realized why this was the place of purgatory. There was no silverware on the beautifully designed tables. Instead, every diner had a long 3-foot fork tied to his right arm and a similar length knife tied to his left arm. “No wonder this place is hell…” he figured.

“Can I see Gan Eden now?” he asked his accompanying angel. “Sure!” and in a matter of seconds, he found himself in …an identical hall, with identical musicians and waiters! Only the guests were different. He recognized many of these faces too.

He approached a table and was stunned to see that here too, no silverware was placed on the tables. Here too 3-foot cutlery was attached to their arms.

“Why do they deserve to suffer like this? Why is this place called Gan Eden?” he wondered. As he was observing, a heavenly voice came out and announced, “Eat, oh you righteous, eat!”

Each tzaddik, seated on one side of the table, used his extended fork and knife to serve a tzaddik seated directly across him.

“Aha! Now I get it!”

“May I check out Gehenom once more before I decide?” the man asked the angel, a plan to deliver his suffering friends from their fate forming in his mind.

“Not a problem,” said the angel.

Before you know it, they were back at Gehenom. The man rushed over to a man he knew from his hometown as a serious gangster and whispered in his ear, “Hey Joey! why don’t you serve the man sitting across from you and he’ll serve you? You’ll both be happy!”

“Are you nuts?” Joey replies, “Serve him? Do you know why he’s here? You think I’d serve this criminal even a dry crust of bread?!”


Rabbi Shalom Dovber of Lubavitch has a famous saying about criticism. “Love critique, it will place you at the desired heights.” (Hayom Yom, 12 Sivan)

We all know that there are shivim panim laTorah, 70 legitimate interpretations of the Torah. There are also shivim achor laTorah, 70 illegitimate ways to interpret the Torah.

There is a Heavenly Yeshiva in Gan Eden, and probably an equivalent institution in the other side of heaven. In that institution of higher learning, the philosophers of evil have come up with an alternative pshat for this teaching:

“Love criticizing others. It will place you at the desired heights” of being able to be useless and at the same time think you are useful.

Giving criticism, in most of the cases, is like empty calories. You eat a large quantity of calories, you feel satisfied for a few moments, but really no energy has entered your system and you remain with no energy just like before.

We don’t criticize to put down others, we’re good people. We criticize because it makes us feel involved and active in running our home when we criticize our spouse; it makes us feel like we’re educating our children when we criticize them, and it makes us feel like we’re involved in community matters when we sit in shul and talk about how everyone else is getting it all wrong.

Love to be criticized, don’t love to criticize.