In the Footsteps of our Fathers Avos Perek 1 Mishna 8 By Rabbi Yitzchak Reuven Rubin

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In the Footsteps of our Fathers

Avos Perek 1 Mishna 8

By Rabbi Yitzchak Reuven Rubin


We have seen it all before.  No matter how absurd something may seem, there will be those who will believe in its veracity. The mind is a very fertile place and given the proper tools, it can become entrenched in any sort of position. How often do we see arguments flair up between otherwise very sane and caring parties? All of a sudden something arises and sides are taken. It is then that we see each party stating just the opposite set of facts, and yet each will swear that their interpretation is the correct one. Are we seeing otherwise normal folk becoming blatant liars? Or is there something else taking place here?


Rav Abraham Twersky tells of an experiment that took place in the 1950’s. The purpose was to find out whether a person could actually testify under oath that something is true even if it is known to be false. The psychiatrist involved hypnotized a perfectly normal young man and told him that there was a communist conspiracy to infiltrate the major news networks and spread communist propaganda to the American people.


After coming out of the trance this young man alerted the authorities about this danger. Those he contacted were aware of the experiment and told him that without names and addresses he couldn’t be taken seriously. The fellow eventually told of meetings he attended and gave dates and places with names of people who were at the meeting. He gave elaborate descriptions of all these people and described specifically what they said. Whenever he was pressed for more proof, he gave even more particulars. After the hypnotic suggestion was removed, he was unable to recall any of the names or places he had mentioned. All these conversations had been filmed, and when he saw and heard his testimony about these people and their crimes, he was totally baffled.


This demonstrates that if a person has an idea which he believes to be true, he can manufacture evidence to support it, and will insist in the truthfulness of what he said.


Our mishna tells us: “[When serving as a judge] do not act as a lawyer; while litigants stand before you, consider them both as guilty….”


In the courtroom of our own mind we should do as this mishna indicates. All too often when faced with a wake up call from Hashem, when something happens that brings into question our own devotion, we tend to become lawyers defending our own actions. We have convinced ourselves of our own worthiness and therefore we cannot see what it is we may be doing wrong.


In the parasha of Tazria we see how if one sees a discoloration of the skin he must go to the kohen to see if it is not a spiritual skin eruption caused by his own sins. The Gemara tells us that if the afflicted man removes the discoloration, then he is no longer considered unclean. This is fascinating, for we are seeing here that this whole subject of the spiritual eruption of one’s skin, something caused by an allergy to doing bad, is actually an empty threat. All someone had to do is either refuse to go to the kohen or even remove the scab on his own. However, this possibility is part and parcel of the man’s problem. If Hashem sends you a warning, a physical wound that stares you in the face, yet you refuse to accept that it is happening, then nothing can help you, and the whole going to the kohen will be in vain.


When we are sent due notice that we must change our ways, the first thing we must not do is become self-pleading lawyers who prefer to blame everything and everyone else, but rather, we must be our very own selves.


In the case of tzaraas the inflicted one went outside the camp, for a period of self-examination. Only when you are able to be truthful to yourself can you hope to rid yourself from your wrong doings. As you stand in front of the inner court of your mind, see your guilt.  Don’t hide from it or else it will never be cured. There will always be two sides arguing in your head, but accept that both may well be standing upon ill conceived notions that you have allowed to become central to your thinking.

Having the ability for self-realization is no small thing.  In truth, it may be the hardest trial you will ever have to undergo.


However, if you persevere and allow yourself to see the truth, then, “When they are dismissed from you, consider them both as innocent, provided they have accepted the judgment upon themselves.”


When you see your truth as it actually is, you can admit your wrongdoing. You can accept that you need to change, and that what you thought was true was just a self-delusion.


Then it is time to get on with your life and move on. The most soul-destroying thing you can do is to allow the wrong done in the past to fester and corrupt your tomorrows. Carrying the sins and feeling worthless will not help you connect with Hashem.  In fact just the opposite; you will be creating a wall. When the tzaraas was cured, when the kohen said the person was now pure, he returned to the camp and became part of the community with a new leaf.


Yes, the mind is a minefield, and it can play huge tricks if we aren’t careful. Yidden seek to be holy; it is what we are. We are thwarted by self-delusion sometimes, and this is how we end up with painful bitterness. When the message comes, don’t scrape it away, see your guilt, accept it and find true purity.

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