Friday, April 28, 2006

Parshas Tazria Od Pam

So I belong to a bunch of halacha/parsha e-mail lists, which flood my inbox on a daily basis. I liked this Dvar Torah alot, and I have pasted it below.

Parashat Tazria presents the laws of Tzara'at, a skin disease that would come upon a person as a result of the sin of Lashon Hara (negative speech). A person who discovered a Tzara'at infection on his skin would go to the Kohen, who would inspect it and determine whether or not it was indeed Tzara'at.The Mishna states, "Kol Ha'nega'im Adam Ro'eh Chutz Mi'nig'ei Atzmo" - "A person sees all infections, except for his own infections." This refers to a Kohen who discovers Tzara'at on his own skin. Although he is empowered to inspect Tzara'at infections on all other people and determine their status, he is not entitled to inspect a lesion found on his own body.

This Halacha teaches a very important lesson in human nature. People notice the faults of others, but not their own. When it comes to other people, a person can draw up a long list of character flaws; regarding one's own faults, however, he always manages to find some justification. We tend to be blind to our own shortcomings, while being keenly aware of the faults of others. This nature is very dangerous. If a person never takes notice of his own shortcomings, he can never work to improve himself; he will remain spiritually complacent and stagnant.

For this reason, many great Rabbis made a point of assigning others to come and offer them rebuke. The Gaon of Vilna, probably the greatest person alive in his time, hired the Maggid of Duvna to come and criticize him. The Maharshal would hire a cabdriver, a simple Jew, to tell him what he was doing wrong. And it is told that the Chiddushei Ha'Rim, one of the great Chassidic masters, left the Yeshiva in Kozhnitz where he had studied because there he was constantly told of how great a student he was and how he was guaranteed a large share in the World to Come. He found it necessary to move to a different Yeshiva, where he would be informed of his faults and shown where he has room for improvement, rather than be complimented for his greatness. These Rabbis understood human nature, the natural tendency to take note of everyone's faults except for one's own, and they therefore ensured to have somebody to point out to them their shortcomings.

The Rabbis instruct us to love those who offer us rebuke, and to be wary of those who compliment us. Although compliments and praise make a person feel good, they cause him to become complacent, rather than working to improve. The Mishna tells us, "Make for yourself a Rabbi, and acquire for yourself a friend." A "friend" is not a person with whom to socialize; a friend is somebody who, like a Rabbi, offers constructive criticism. Without such a friend, a person can never grow; he will never learn of his faults and imperfections.A story is told of a physician who informed his patient that he suffered from a serious disease. "This is not a nice thing to say," the patient replied. "Why don't you tell me something positive and favorable?" The doctor, of course, reminded the patient that his intention is only to help him, by giving an accurate diagnosis so that the problem can be properly treated.The same is true about criticism.
Many people don't like to hear criticism from a Rabbi. But this is the Rabbi's job; like the doctor, he is responsible for informing people when something is wrong, where there is a problem that demands attention. Rabbi Yisrael Salanter would say that a Rabbi who does not make his congregants feel uneasy when he speaks from the pulpit is not doing his job. His job is not to tell the people how great they are, but rather to point out where they have room for improvement. Criticism, like a physician's diagnosis, can only help a person, by showing him the faults that he could never see on his own


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