Let’s take another look at BESHT’s Mirror Principle.
Until I really dug down, and started to figure out how the negative bunch of character traits that we’ll identify as ‘narcissism’, for ease of reference, works, I used to spend a lot of my time trying to warn others away from narcissists and crazies.
I have to tell you: this approach really didn’t work so well, and it actually only helped to alienate me from so many people. It was only when I started to learn about the Baal Shem Tov’s mirror principle, which I’ve written so much about, but most recently HERE, that I started to understand why this always used to backfire so badly.
To put it in colloquial terms,
birds of a feather flock together.
For as long as I continue to have a particular bad midda or negative character trait that I am justifying and excusing in myself, I simply won’t be able to spot it in other people.
As long as I keep making excuses for myself about why it’s okayyyy to speak lashon hara, or to keep exploding in anger at people, or to control others with guilt trips and deceit, and to avoid owning up to my own bad behavior (to name just a few of the more notable traits embodied by narcissism) – the less I’ll be able to identify those traits as ‘bad’ in other people.
And so, I will think that anyone who tells me that this stuff is ‘bad’ is actually just a derango themselves.
It’s only when I really started to put my hand up to my own anger, jealousy, arrogance, and ‘always-have-to-be-rightness’ (again, to name but a few….) that my tolerance for these traits in others started to diminish rapidly.
It’s like an ex-smoker. When you really start doing the work of acknowledging that anger is bad, for example, you can detect even the faintest whiff of it wafting around. Acknowledging that my anger was bad, under any circumstances, lead to some massive breakthroughs in my relationships and also my teshuva process.
Because we’re not angry at the weather, the boss, the ex, the rude clerk in the bank. Really, we’re just angry at God.
And until and unless we accept that, we’re going to be far away from having real emuna, far away from having a real relationship with our Creator, and very far away from ever acknowledging our own issues and problems, because everything will always be someone else’s fault.
The only person to work on is ourselves
The mirror principle has helped me to work on my own (hidden….) bad middot, so very much. Once I really internalized that any trait or behavior that I see in someone else that upsets me personally, is really just my own problem in disguise – that’s when my teshuva process really started to accelerate, and to get somewhere.
I stopped making excuses, I stopped pointing fingers at everyone else, and I started to see the true wisdom in Rabbi Israel Salanter’s comment, when he said:
“When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world. But I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my country. When I found I couldn’t change my country, I began to focus on my town. However, I discovered that I couldn’t change the town, and so as I grew older, I tried to change my family.
Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, but I’ve come to recognize that if long ago I had started with myself, then I could have made an impact on my family. And, my family and I could have made an impact on our town. And that, in turn, could have changed the country and we could all indeed have changed the world.”
Mussar – as defined as the practice of working to perfect your own character flaws, instead of just pointing them out in other people – isn’t very popular today.
That’s a shame, because Rav Berland explains that:
“The best advice to overcome the yetzer hara is to cultivate some lowliness.”
And the best way to cultivate some lowliness is to acknowledge just how imperfect we ourselves are – and that’s why God keeps shoving all these ‘awful people’ in our faces. Because when the problem is really mine, there is no getting away from it.
Personally, I used to get SO ANGRY!!!! At all those DISGUSTING LUNATICS!!!! Who have SUCH BAD MIDDOT!!!! And WHO ARE FOOLING EVERYONE ELSE AND MISLEADING THEM!!!!
I used to rant on and on about them, and diss them at every opportunity, and lie awake at night thinking of ways to expose them and their awful hypocrisy. But this attitude is the opposite of having emuna, it’s the opposite of acting like a believing Jew, and it was just a function of my own bad middot, that my yetzer had carefully dressed up as self-righteous ‘good’ judgment.
The Rambam’s first principle of faith teaches us:
Ein Od Milvado!
God is behind everything and everyone. He’s setting up every single circumstance I find myself in, just to show me what I myself need to work on.
It was only when I really started trying to internalize my emuna that Ein Od Milvado, and to look past the person themselves to decode the messages God was using them to send me, that I realized that the real work to be done was just internal.
And the more I understood that the bad middot I was identifying in others was really just a reflection, and the more I started to work on them, the less God had to put those angry, judgmental, hypocritical, arrogant people in my face, because:
Like attracts like.
When I stopped ‘liking’ my own angry, self-righteous outbursts, and when I stopped giving myself a ‘get out of jail free’ card for speaking evilly of others, and when I stopped pretending that I was perfectly pious saint who never does anything wrong – I stopped gravitating to the people who were reflecting this behavior back at me. And even the ‘difficult’ people I can’t totally avoid have mellowed, and become so much nicer to deal with.
And man, o man, has life been so much happier, calmer and sweeter as a result.
But, there’s another layer to the ‘world is a mirror’ idea, and that’s something that I learned from the ravberland.com website, HERE. The Baal Shem Tov also taught that:
The Tzaddik is just a mirror.
Again, this isn’t ‘daas me’, this is properly sourced and referenced Daas Torah, and one of the foundational teachings of chassidut that’s grounded in the Gemara. Tractate Sanhedrin 110 explains that so many of the people in the desert suspected Moshe Rabbenu of committing adultery with their wives.
At that point, Moshe Rabbenu was an 80 year old man who’d even separated from his own wife, Tzipporah, because of his tremendous level of kedusha and personal holiness. Moshe Rabbenu was doing open miracles left, right and centre. Moshe Rabbenu had led them out of the desert, and redeemed them from Egypt.
And yet, so many Jews could still look at a Tzaddik of the caliber of Moshe Rabbenu, and suspect him of adultery.
How could this be?
A little later, the incident with the daughters of Midian showed exactly what was going on. That’s when 24,000 members of the tribe of Shimon, including their ‘big tzaddik’ of a leader, Zimri, died in a heavenly plague because they flagrantly committed adultery with the Midianite women, and bowed to their idols.
I’m sure those 24,000 were all over Facebook and the internet beforehand, swapping salacious stories about what they just ‘knew’ about Moshe Rabbenu.
The Tzaddik was just a mirror.
And the same principle is still playing out today, with this generation’s Tzaddik.
Those people who have pretensions to lead the nation, and to be the big enchilada and the main spokesperson for Am Yisrael¸ they look at the Tzaddik and they see a false messiah peeking back at them.
Abusive, angry people who want to ‘force’ others to do what they say, and think the way they think come near him, and they start to believe, incredibly, that the Tzaddik is an abusive, angry, controlling person
Self-righteous people who like to pretend they are perfect get a glimpse of the Tzaddik, and they come away convinced that he’s a hypocrite who is hiding a whole bunch of horrible sins underneath his flawless exterior – just the way they are, themselves.
People who are obsessed with making money, or miserly tightwads who are allergic to the idea of paying out 10% of their income to charity come close and all they see is dollar $ign$ – it drives them bonkers that people pay money to the Tzaddik for pidyonot!!!! They can’t stand it!!! How has that guy figured out how to dupe people into paying him large amounts of cash for free???!?!?!?!
Innately immoral people who support taavah-dik lifestyles look at the Tzaddik and see someone who’ll stop at nothing to gratify his own lusts and desires.
And the list goes on and on.
(It’s a side point, but it seems obvious that the Tzaddik’s most outspoken critics tend to be the most troubled people, for the reasons outlined above. They’re getting ‘triggered’ all over the place by all the ‘uck’ that’s reflecting back at them.)
There is nothing that can be done, to dissuade them out of these opinions and ideas because they aren’t based on facts, and they aren’t based on having the right information. It all just boils down to this:
Like attracts like.
What is pinging people away from the Tzaddik is their own innate evil, their own bad middot and their own negative character traits.
All the stuff that I’m doing with trying to get One in a Generation Volume II out there isn’t going to help these people one jot. Until and unless they start owning up to their own bad middot, and working on their own emuna that Ein Od Milvado, they can’t get anywhere near the Tzaddik of the generation.
That’s also why so many people come close initially, attracted by the light, but then subsequently ping away, when the Tzaddik’s enormous light starts to illuminate all the character flaws and personal issues they’d rather not deal with.
At that stage, God gives people a choice:
Are you going to admit that YOU are the one with the problems, or are you going to keep trying to blame things on other people, and carry on pretending that you’re just a poor victim? What’s it going to be?
Sadly, I’ve seen so many people stumble in this test. I think that without a regular commitment to hitbodedut, where you spend a chunk of time every single day asking God to show you what you really need to be working on, and looking at, and trying to see things from the other person’s point of view, more, it’s very hard to pass.
It’s so much easier to just keeping blaming the ex, the rebellious teenager, the rude bank clerk, the two-faced friend, the horrible boss.
Anyone except ourselves.
So, this is probably the main test that we all have to pass before geula really starts to kick off in a big way: the test of being honest with ourselves, about where we’re really holding with our own bad middot and lack of emuna.
Anyone who is doing that will make it through, regardless of where they live or which ‘group’ they belong to.
And anyone who isn’t doing that simply can’t ‘fit’ into the world of truth that is going to blossom when Moshiach shows up. Because the Tzaddik is just a mirror, and the people who aren’t working on themselves simply won’t be able to see his light, and to follow him out of the darkness.