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By Rabbi Atein, April 8, 2011

There seems to be a strange pattern to Jewish behavior. No matter how much brutality and anti-Semitism we endure, there are Jews that will always believe that it's our own fault. They reason that our enemies would live peacefully with us if only we would be more compromising and be willing to sacrifice more. Is it that Jews have a low self-esteem?

The answer is in this week's Torah portion, Metzora. The Torah describes an affliction called Tzoraat that affected the skin of a person, the fabric of clothing and the walls of houses. The Talmudic sages explain that this affliction miraculously affected a person that engaged in slander and gossip. As part of his restitution, he was required to spend time in total seclusion, to regain control over his loose speech.

Although this phenomenon is no longer current in its literal sense, the meaning behind this Mitzvah is very relevant and current. Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov explained that a person is a living mirror. What we see in another person is a reflection of what we are ourselves. So the person who notices a blemish in another human being is really seeing the blemish that is his own self, mirrored by the other person. That is why when Jews lived on a high spiritual plane, the slanderer's skin broke out in a blemish; it was his own faults that became visible once he noticed them in his fellow human.

There is a philosophical reason for this: Why would G d cause me to see another person's faults, unless He is sending me a message to do something about it. If it is not my child or student that I could help correct, then it can only be me, myself, that stands to be corrected and that would be the reason that divine providence has led me to see another person's faults-as a reflection of my own.

And there is a psychological reason to why a person would see his own faults in another person. Our human nature tends to project our own thoughts and emotions on those around us. The liar imagines that everyone else is not telling the truth, because he knows what he would have done in the other person's shoes. And the trusting person trusts everyone; he would never imagine that the other person would do anything different than he himself would do, telling the truth.

So Jews always imagine that even our worst enemies are peaceful at heart, because we project our Jewish personalities on our neighbors. And no matter hard we try, they think the worst of us; they think we are like them!


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Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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