The Blind Spots Within: Recognizing Our Own Flaws

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by R. Eliezer Simcha Weisz

The Mishnah and the Kohen’s Inability to See His Own Blemishes

This week’s parsha, Tazria, is relevant today although the Negaim mentioned therein are not practiced in the way described in the Torah.

The Mishnah, in Negaim (2, 5), describes the duties of a Kohen examining skin blemishes. It states: “כל הנגעים אדם רואה חוץ מנגעי עצמו” (Kol HaNegayim Adam Roeh Chutz MiNegayim Atzmo) – “All blemishes a person sees except for his own blemishes.” On the surface, this statement refers to the Kohen’s physical inability to identify his own Negaim – blemishes, which require inspection and might necessitate isolation.

This concept of Negaim, while seemingly limited to a physical phenomena of the past, takes on a deeper metaphorical meaning. While the Mishnah speaks of literal blemishes, the “blemishes” we fail to see can be extended to the flaws and shortcomings we possess ourselves.

This meaning resonates deeply. We readily identify flaws in those around us – friends, family, colleagues – yet struggle to recognize the same imperfections within ourselves. The Ba’al Shem Tov suggests the blemishes we see in others might mirror aspects of ourselves. He proposes, “כל הנגעים שאדם רואה חוץ, זה נמשך מנגעי עצמו” (Kol HaNegayim SheAdam Roeh Chutz, Ze Nichmashech MiNegayim Atzmo), meaning “The blemishes a person sees in others stem from their own blemishes.” If a particular flaw jumps out at you in someone else, it might be a sign you need to address the same tendency within yourself.

The Pele Yoetz (R Eliezer Papo). reinforces this point: “It’s very easy in the world to find and recognize faults in others, but incredibly difficult to recognize our own shortcomings.”

ובאמת אמרו (נגעים ב, ה) כל הנגעים אדם רואה חוץ מנגעי עצמו. ואמר החכם:  אין נקל בעולם כמו למצא ולהכיר מומי חברו, ואין קשה בעולם כמו להכיר מומי עצמו

(Ein Nikal BaOlam Kmo Limtzoa ULa Hakir Momei Chaveiro, V’Ein Kasha BaOlam Kmo La Hakir Momei Atzmo).

We might criticize a friend’s negativity, overlooking our own pessimism, or notice a friend gossiping while indulging in casual gossip ourselves. These are just examples – the specific flaws will vary from person to person.

We must examine ourselves for blind spots – things we miss about ourselves. Regularly asking ourselves, “Do I ever act the way I criticize others for acting?” can be a powerful tool. Additionally, actively observing our own behavior and reactions in various situations helps us identify patterns we might miss otherwise. The most helpful thing we can do is to try to see ourselves the way others see us. This doesn’t mean needing everyone’s approval, but rather getting a more honest picture of our good and bad qualities.

While the specific practices of the past, like becoming a Metzora in the Torah, are not applicable today, the message remains relevant. We must consciously cultivate self-awareness to bridge the gap between how we perceive ourselves and how we perceive others. Thus achieving greater understanding towards others and the ability to address and improve upon our own shortcomings.

 

About Eliezer Simcha Weisz

Rabbi Eliezer Simcha Weisz is a member of The Chief Rabbinate Council of Israel

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