Originally I was going to write about something else entirely this week, but after reading the tremendous guest post by Barbara Heller from yesterday, I decided to piggy back off a concept she brought up.
“I think largely the problem may be that we don’t always get or see ourselves, so we hope that by someone outside of ourselves seeing us perhaps we’ll have a better chance of seeing ourselves too. I always found it odd that the way we see the world is through our own eyes. Without a mirror and good vision, its hard to see what we look like on the outside.”
Now specifically Barbara is talking about dating. But obviously this idea can be applied to all ways we are seen. How are we able to authentically see ourselves when we are looking at ourselves from the inside out?
Sure, we can ask people what they think of us and how they think we’re doing. And there’s certainly humility in that. But unless the person really knows you or is exceptionally insightful, you can get bogged down with a plethora of overwhelming, inaccurate, and even conflicting criticism. Family might but good, they know you well, but may lack objectivity. Especially if you’ve got family drama going on. Most people these days might go to a psychologist, but their perspective is based solely on your perception of events. A mentor or a Rabbi would likely be the best option as they are a source of wisdom and they can see how you interact with the world. But what if you don’t have a mentor or a Rabbi you trust? Judaism has another answer.
Have you ever been annoyed or disturbed by someone before? Of course you have, you’re a human being. In some instances, the person may just be an unpleasant individual. But many times, the thing that bothers you, you can’t quite put your finger on. Maybe it’s how they talk or how they eat their food. Little things that if your best friend were doing, you’d shrug off. But for this individual, you just can’t stand the behavior.
According to the Baal Shem Tov (the founder of the Chassidic movement), “When a person sees ill in another person, he is really being shown the ill in himself.” This is a tremendous insight. That the way Hashem allows us to see our faults is through other people. I know from my own personal experience, the people who evoke these feeling in me I pretty quickly realize are doing something I used to do or still do to this day. The concept is referred to as The Mirror.
The Mirror gives us two opportunities.
By seeing the qualities and character traits in others, it gives us the ability to work on and refine those traits in ourselves. Meditating on these issues gives you a better understanding of yourself and how your behavior effects others in ways you may not have realized. And if you’re the type of person who often notices or fixates on the faults of others, then that is a red flag. You’ve got some serious self work to do.
2) Loving your neighbor as you love yourself.
Everyone can agree that loving your neighbor is a good mitzvah to strive for. But when it comes to loving those people who bother you, it’s much easier in concept than practice. But when we realize that the reason these people bother us is because they’re struggling with things we ourselves have struggled with, it should immediately spark feelings of compassion. The Mirror is the key to loving those who we have trouble loving. You can love them as yourself in the way that you give yourself breaks and rationalize your own personal faults. Just extend that perspective for them.
The opportune time.
As of tonight, we will be entering the month of Elul. It’s the month that precedes Rosh Hashana (aka the Day of Judgement.) Elul is a time for refinement and perfecting yourself before the big day. Perhaps over this Elul, consider taking particular notice of the ways people bother you as a clue to what you should work on going into the coming High Holidays.