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November 28th, 2020

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The world is a mirror

Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski

By Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski

Published May 12, 2017

The world is a mirror

A deep psychological insight based on a supposedly "legalistic" verse of the Bible

“Just as he will have inflicted a wound on a person, so shall it be inflicted upon him.”
  —   Leviticus 24:20


This portion of the Torah deals with personal injury. The Talmud says that the Oral Law, transmitted through the generations, was that the above verse, as well as "an eye for an eye," are not meant to be taken literally.

Rather, one must compensate the victim for the injury.

The Kometz HaMinchah translates this verse a bit differently. "As one caused a defect in another, so it shall be given to him."

The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement, taught an important psychological insight. Inasmuch as people are generally in denial, they may be unaware of their character defects.

Therefore, G-d shows them their character defect in another person. "The world is a mirror," the Baal Shem Tov said. "The faults you see in others are your own."

One might say, "Why is this a general rule? I just happened to see someone in a rage. How does that prove that I do not have control over my anger?"

Let us reflect on, "I just happened to see." If you put several people on a busy street corner for several minutes, then asked them to report what they saw, you would likely get a different response from each one. They were all witnesses to the same scene, in which many things were happening.

Yet, each person saw something different than the others. This is because the mind has a selective filter.

If we were at all times aware of all the stimuli bombarding our senses, our minds would be overwhelmed and we could not possibly function. The filtering system, therefore, blocks out most stimuli and allows us to focus on just a few.

There is no escaping the fact that there must be some reason why, out of the myriad of stimuli, the filtering system selects those of which the person becomes aware. The Baal Shem Tov's point is that the selectivity is determined by what one wants or needs to become aware of. One factor governing this selectivity is one's own character makeup.

Our psychological defensive system operates to minimize our discomfort. It is easier to accept a character defect within oneself if it occurs in others as well.


Therefore, the mind's filtering system is motivated to allow these particular stimuli to come to one's awareness, and blocks out those which serve no psychological purpose for the individual.

If we bear this in mind, we will be able to avoid lashon hara (gossiping). Saying something derogatory about someone else is an indication that we, too, have that character defect. Why would anyone wish to disclose his own character defects to the world?

This, Kometz HaMinchah says, is the message of the above verse: "As one caused a defect in another, so it shall be given to him."

The faults you attribute to others are probably your own.

Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D. is a psychiatrist and ordained rabbi. He is the founder of the Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Pittsburgh, a leading center for addiction treatment. An Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, he is a prolific author, with some 70 books to his credit, including, "Twerski on Chumash" (Bible), from which this was excerpted (Sales of this book help fund JWR).

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