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All we witness around us is an opportunity to learn about our own inner core

Outside-In Perception

Outside-In Perception

All we witness around us is an opportunity to learn about our own inner core

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One of the more amazing mystical concepts emphasized in Judaism in general and in Chassidic philosophy in particular is the idea of Hashgacha Pratit, Divine providence. Divine providence refers to the direct involvement of G‑d in every individual detail in His Creation. Every single event in the world, even a leaf falling from a tree...has some revealed or hidden teaching The question is how much? Is every occurrence that we experience a vessel for divinity, literally G‑d communicating to us, or perhaps only the 'major things"? The Baal Shem Tov taught that every single event in the world, even a leaf falling from a tree, is divine and has some revealed or hidden teaching and purpose to it. We have a very interesting example of this in this week's Torah portion.

After the Flood, one of the first things Noah did was to plant a vineyard. Upon harvesting the grapes he made wine, drank and became drunk. The verse says, "He was uncovered in his tent." (Gen. 9:22) The Torah continues, saying that Ham, the father of Canaan, and Noah's youngest son, saw his father's nakedness and told his two brothers who were outside. Ham's older brothers, Shem and Jafeth, then took a garment, "went in backwards and covered their father's nakedness, their faces turned backwards, and they did not see their father's nakedness." (Ibid. 9:23) In fact, twice the Torah states that they turned backwards. What additional insight is the Torah providing us by repeating that the two sons did not see their father's nakedness?

The Baal Shem Tov explains that when a person sees something negative in another person, this is really an indication that some part of that evil is in him - or something resembling that evil on even a very minute level. The other person is merely functioning as a mirror. A person whose face is clean sees no blemish in the mirror. Something inappropriate is only a reflection of a problem within ourselves. The reason someone is shown the negative trait is to be moved by the coarseness of it, to identify it in oneself and to fix it in one's own soul.

But wait! Maybe the reason we are shown this negative thing is in order to help the other person improve. This could also be Divine Providence, and all the more so, we have a commandment from the Torah to reprimand a person if it will help him change. A Jew must see only the good in others...

The answer is that if the motivation of our seeing the negative was to help the other person change, we would not have judged the badness as something integral to that person, rather just as something to fix - like a stain on someone's clothing; the emphasis would be on the fixing. The fact that the other person was seen in a negative light and that we were repulsed by that person is proof that on some level, however minute, this evil exists in ourselves. This is why the verse states only about Ham that, "he saw his father's nakedness." Since Ham was immoral, it resonated in him. On the other hand, the other sons, who were clean from this evil, only saw what needed to be fixed, and "they did not see their father's nakedness".

A Jew must see only the good in others. If another has something that needs fixing, we have to see it only as an opportunity to help - and not conclude that the other person is bad. Certainly, we should not mention the negativity to others, as Ham did! If, however, our perception is that the person is evil, we should seek to correct ourselves. If we follow this teaching, we will be a vessel for personal truth and will constantly progress in our Torah lives bringing the redemption closer still.

Shabbat Shalom! Shaul


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Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter is a co-founder, executive director and featured teacher of Ascent-of-Safed.
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