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SELF IMPROVEMENT – Don’t Blame Me!

By Rabbi Jonathan Tawil

Do you remember the Iraqi information minister giving a news brief on April 7, 2003? He claimed that there were no American troops in Baghdad, and that the Americans were committing suicide by the hundreds at the city’s gates. At that time, American tanks were patrolling the streets only a few hundred meters from the location where the press conference was held, and were clearly visible behind him

In the past decade, we have been privy to some other fairly comical quotes;

“All my people love me. They would die to protect me,” said the Libyan leader, Gaddafi, speaking to the BBC, laughing off international pressure to step down.

What is it that gets to these people that makes them think so convincingly that they are in the right? What allows them to turn the world inside out and believe in facts that don’t exist?

This week we read about the various physical blemishes and conditions which can afflict a person.

The NegaTsarat – was a seemingly physical affliction, yet its source was spiritual. Our sages explain (Erchin 16a) that one of the main causes of this affliction was the sin of Lashon Harah. The torah records that this Tsarat could afflict a person’s house, clothes, and body. The Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah17:4) states, “First the Tsarat comes upon the house. If man repents, it requires the pulling out of the affected stones, if not, the house is pulled down. Then the Tsarat at comes upon one’s clothing, if man repents, the clothing require washing, if not they are burnt. Then the Tsarat comes upon the body, if he repents he undergoes purification, if not the person shall dwell alone.”

We are taught that Hashem sends hints to a person to change. At first it is subtle; it affects just the walls of the house. If the person doesn’t get the hint, and doesn’t repent, it will soon move to his clothes and eventually his own body.

The Talmud (Negaim) which deals with these types of blemishes and conditions notes that “a person sees all kinds of blemishes except for their own.”

The story is told of a prominent doctor who was known for his generosity but was also prone to blowing his own trumpet.

One day he was travelling when he saw the local rabbi walking. He stopped to offer the rabbi a ride. As they travelled together, the doctor, as was his wont, began to speak about his achievements. “You know, Rabbi, I get a lot of patients who can’t afford to pay but I never turn them away. I treat them exactly the same as my wealthier patients.”

“I also do that,” replied the rabbi.

The doctor figured that perhaps the rabbi was referring to the spiritual counsel he gave his spiritual “patients.” “Also,” he continued, “a lot of times patients need expensive drugs. If they can’t afford it, I provide them for free.”

“I also do that,” rejoined the rabbi.

Maybe he means that sometimes he gives people material help also, the doctor thought. “Sometimes people need days of post-operative care. I give it to them voluntarily, even though I have so little time.”

“I also do that.”

So it went, the doctor continuing to lavish praise on himself while the rabbi answered each time, “I also do that.”

Eventually the doctor couldn’t take it anymore and he asked the rabbi: “Rabbi, I don’t understand. You’re not a doctor, how can you do all these things?”

“No, all I meant was I also do that – I also only talk about my own good qualities!”

Our Sages state that it is easy to find fault in others. “They” are always wrong, how could “they” do such a thing. Yet when we take a closer look we see that we too have our fair share of fault. It’s just that we are to busy looking at everyone else’s fault, deflecting attention from ourselves. This can be detrimental and lead to our short-sightedness.

The Baal Shem Tov taught that another person is like a mirror–if we find ourselves noticing faults in others, it is because they exist within ourselves. The whole world is a mirror designed to show us how we can work on ourselves and our own deficiencies. It takes a great leader to own up to his mistakes, and change direction.

Unfortunately in this day and age when there is so much financially at stake, some leaders are being carried away with their fantasies instead of owning up to the truth.

What about us? Each one of us rules our own little world. There are times when Hashem sends us messages that are far, and seem to come closer. Don’t ignore the messages. Let us take note, look around focus on ourselves as well as helping others to improve and work to better our lives and those around us.

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