When the Sfas Emes was a small boy, he lived with his grandfather, the Chidushei haRim. The Sfas Emes would normally wake up early, but one night he stayed up learning almost until alos hashachar, and did not wake up at his usual early time. When his grandfather came into the room and saw his grandson still sleeping, he gave him strong mussar, explaining how it is important to not indulge in sleep and other enjoyments and to rise early to daven. After he finished his mussar shmues, the Sfas Emes calmly explained “Zaidy you should not think that what happened is what you imagined. Rather I was up late at night learning, and only went to sleep a short while ago.” To that, the grandfather questioned “So why didn’t you tell me this before I began to give you mussar? I would not have chastised you if you didn’t deserve it!” The Sfas Emes explained “I didn’t say anything because of what I learned from Parshas Matos. The bnei Gad and bnei Reuven asked Moshe Rabbeinu for permission to stay on the East bank of the Jordan, but were planning to cross the Jordan to help fight in the war effort to conquer Eretz Canaan. Upon hearing their desire to stay, Moshe gave them mussar, cautioning them not to leave their brothers stranded, etc. Only when Moshe finished speaking did the bnei Gad and bnei Reuven explain that they had planned all along not to drop out of the war effort. So you see, the same question you have on me we could ask on bnei Gad and bnei Reuven. The answer is that even if Moshe Rabbeinu’s mussar was not applicable to the bnei Gad or bnei Reuven, there were still great things to learn from it and it was worthwhile to not interrupt Moshe and instead listen. I too receive chizuk in my yiras shamayim when you, my dear zeidy, give me mussar.”
Sometimes we feel we are being accused of doing things we didn’t do. Maybe someone accuses us of leaving a siddur out in the shul, or a dinner plate out in the home. When such things happen, we may apply to ourselves the lesson of the Sfas Emes: Maybe we are not guilty and don’t ‘deserve’ the tirade that we are hearing, but we may still learn something from it. Therefore, it is worthwhile to give heed to the words of mussar.
But there is another level. I am aware that there are times when someone falsely accuses us of doing wrong and proceeds to give us mussar—but in this case the “mussar” in no way resembles the mussar from the Chiddushei haRim, or even a local Rav, rather they are useless words! If that is the case, I advise that we should have in mind that we are doing a chesed by letting that person blow off steam. Additionally, by not responding—even when we have the urge to set the score straight—we become someone who is maavir al midosov—we overcome our natural inclination—and when we do this, if HKBH should at one time be inclined to punish us, He will also be maavir al midaso.
Now, during the three weeks, which is a time that we try to work on our interpersonal relationships, these lessons are a good place to start.