Meaning, the bad points you see in others actually hints at those same exact bad points inhabiting your own character.
I hated this idea from the first moment I heard it.
It also made no sense to me.
For example, I've never committed murder or even tried to commit murder.
In fact, I haven't even violently assaulted another person. Ever.
And not only am I not a murderer, I haven't even come close to an act that leads to murder: I never cut anyone, beat anyone, held anyone underwater, or grabbed someone by the throat.
Yet when reading the news, I come across murder. I see a murderer on the news. If I say, "This person is a murderer"—does that mean I'm a murderer?
According to the above theory (as initially presented), it does.
Yet that is patently false.
Another example: The Nazis who shoved children into gas chambers, then watched as they died in suffering—I think they're really bad. Evil. I hate them. I wish such people never existed & that anyone like that would just die on the spot.
So because I both see & despise their demented, demonic, and sadistic evil...then does that mean I am also really evil, demented, demonic, and sadistic?
Again, according to the above theory, it does mean that.
Interwoven within the logic issue: The idea is also terribly insulting.
To compound the insulting aspect, people tend to say this after you've just made yourself vulnerable by revealing a very hurtful thing said or done to you, and how hurt or angry you feel about it.
Meaning, you're basically told you are just as awful as the person you hate.
Again, very insulting & a way to kick someone when they're already down.
I had no problem with the idea of projection (meaning, that a person sometimes projects their issues on to others & accuses others of one's own flaw).
But rejected the idea that seeing bad in others automatically meant I was just as bad as them.
So those were the 2 issues I had with this idea:
- It makes no sense intellectually; it's often false on a purely factual level.
- In addition to its falseness, it's terribly insulting on an emotional level.
The Frum Encounter with the Idea
And it still bothered me.
It still felt insulting AND still made no sense.
It didn't help that the people who like to say this usually do so with a knowing little smile that feels more smirky than sympathetic.
When they're not smiling about it, they tend to come off as either pompous or very grave (like, "I'm revealing a severe truth about life—and about you in particular").
How ever they made the statement, it only remained a superficial statement without any further explanation.
Even when confronted with the argument made above ("So if I see demented evil, that means I'm demented & evil in the same way?"), either the person's smirk deepened (as a nervous response) OR they looked surprised at the question.
But like I said, it didn't happen often. (Most people have better sense & compassion than to randomly say such things.)
Yet when I found myself in a dilemma upon encountering the idea as a core Jewish insight—straight from the Gemara Kiddushin 70a:
V'kol haposel pasul v'eino midaber bashivcha l'olam v'amar Shmuel: "Bamumo posel."
And every person who disqualify another is himself disqualified; and about he who never speaks in praise of others—Shmuel said: "In that flaw he is also disqualified."
"When you see ill in your friend, it is your own ill that you are observing."
But Chazal definitely take the idea beyond lineage.
Also, the Gemara specifies a person who derides others habitually, and not just a normal criticism when the topic of evil comes up.
However, the Baal Shem Tov does include even one-time criticism as reflective of the critic.
Yet because I only heard this idea presented superficially, I still lacked any context to receive it because of the 2 arguments stated above.
Lacking the tools to deal with this, I pushed it to the back of mind (where it still secretly bothered me).
"Dear Most Cherished & Beloved": A Love Letter from God
Basically, the undesirable behavior of others is a loving message from Hashem to indulge in some soul-searching.
Emphasis on LOVING.
Hashem LOVES us and wants us to achieve the purpose for which He placed us in this world.
Furthermore, the flaw of our nemesis does not HAVE to mean we are as bad as our nemesis.
It COULD mean that. Sometimes, it DOES mean that.
But most of the time, it doesn't mean we are as bad.
Our nemesis has the flaw a magnified a million times more than our little flaw.
Hashem wishes to bring it to our attention by emphasizing it in this way.
It's similar to someone shouting or grabbing you just before you walk into an oncoming train.
However violent their behavior toward you is, it's to prevent you from become railroad splatter.
It's not meant to hurt you (as far as Hashem's intention), it's meant to save you.
Furthermore, undesirable behavior in others isn't always the same message from Hashem.
It doesn't always mean you share an aspect of that too.
For example, undesirable behavior from others could also be a lesson in what NOT to do—before you ever even think of doing it.
It can also be a cleansing atonement for past sins—whether in this life or a previous life.
Other reasons exist.
But this post focuses on the idea of using another's undesirable behavior as a message to invest in yourself.
A Loving Message with 1,000,000x Magnification
And it's definitely very challenging at times.
It's vital to use this method with LOVE.
LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE.
It's not, "Oh, what's wrong with me THIS time?" or "I never get a break; Hashem keeps criticizing me."
No, it's a LOVING message from a LOVING God Who is EXTREMELY FOND of you.
(If you do find yourself getting down about it, switch to looking at it as a different opportunity, like cleansing atonement or to thank Hashem for yissurim to bring yourself merits or to practice compassion or giving the benefit of the doubt, etc.—whatever works for you at that phase. As noted above, another's undesirable behavior does not HAVE to be a reflection of your own in any way. It often is. But not always.)
Another advantage of focusing on the Hashem-behind-the-scenes aspects is this focus deflates a lot of the pain & intensity involved in an unpleasant interaction.
It makes it less personal, allowing you the room to step back & view it from a healthier angle.
It grants you more objectivity.
Not always & maybe not as much emotional distance & objectivity as you need, but it helps a lot more than anything else.
So that's the key to this method:
- View it as the agent of a LOVING message from Hashem.
- If it reflects on you at all, realize it's reflecting at an extreme magnification a million times more than your actual flaw. (In other words, do NOT think you are as bad as the other person.)
The Unopened Message
- Do you want to deal with the message right away, focusing more on the message than the intermediary of the messenger?
- Would you like to put it aside & open it later—maybe when you can focus on it better?
- Would you like to ignore it completely?
- Would you like to ignore it forever (even letting the messages pile up over time)?
I personally do all of the above at different times (except knowingly ignoring forever) because I find it impossible to always be so "holy."
Sometimes, I'm just not ready to deal with the message—at least not right away.
So I'm not going to tell you to do something that I don't always manage to do myself.
However, I'll give you the same encouragement I give myself: Try it as best you can.
Here are posts with other true stories: