Monday, November 1, 2010

Faults and weaknesses

If there is one thing I am good at its procrastination. In fact, you could say I’m practiced. In evidence, the Rabbi and I are heading out for our first vacation in a while. Not just yet, thank G-d, because I haven’t packed. I don’t like to over pack and the weather is iffy, so…that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

Like anyone, it’s one thing for me to say it and another for someone else to point it out to me. Don’t believe me? Try it one time-with someone else of course! All silliness aside, how quick are we to point out other’s foibles and perceived faults and yet we are so sensitive, so merciful with ourselves. And I say perceived faults because, how often we are wrong in our judgments!

Recently, a young woman in New Castle, PA lost her child to social services. She tested positive for drugs after eating an everything bagel hours before the birth, which of course includes poppy seeds. I couldn’t help but notice that the article paraphrased the state law as the hospital being allowed to test anyone they “suspect” may be a drug user. What made her, and not someone else, “suspect”? The Talmud says, "The one who disparages does so from his own weakness" (Kiddushin 70a). One has to wonder at the situation. What bias, judgement, or presieved short falling caused her to be suspected, and not retested and questioned before her child was removed from her home. And as a “danger” why was her child in her home?

Another tragic figure, in NY, is of the young man from Rutger’s University who jumped from the George Washington Bridge to his death, after being secretly taped during sex and having it broadcast live over the Internet. His two tormentors, Dharun Ravi and Molly W. Wei, had done this before on two separate occasions, and not with this student! We should be reminded that the Tulmud warns us against shaming someone; that it is the equal of murder! Rashi goes as far as to compare the two by siting the color draining out of one’s face during embarrassment as though one’s blood where draining from the body. The Rurtger’s student was gay and, it is believed, that was why they tormented him. Certainly, this fact has something to do with blaming the victim in the court of public option. There are hundreds, even thousands of other examples.

"A fool indicts others, looking for their faults and attributing weaknesses to them. He will never speak the praises of others or positive attributes they might possess. He is similar to the flies who hover around dirty places"(Rabeinu Yona, Gates of Repentance 3:217). How often do we find ourselves making criticisms, harming someone’s reputation? Do we disparage others? And if so, to what end? Are we in the habit of shaming others? And when we hear these types of remarks, do we remember to consider what it says about the source to be making them? Even Mr. Phil, while not my favorite TV personality, accurately reminds his viewers, “If they’ll do it with you, they’ll do it to you.” Maybe it is best to direct our judgments inwardly-at least then we will remember to be fair, sensitive and maybe even accurate!

It might be in our best interest to pack up these habits, as I am going to pack for vacation, and not as eventually.


  1. 1) While procrastination might be a "fault", it's one of the cleaner ones. It does not have to be "cleaned up" in panicky haste.

    2) I think we tend to have an easier time judging our own faults more positively because we see ourselves in a fuller context than we see others. So we can more easily point to the string of events that brought us to unfortunate behavior and see it more benignly. By contrast with others, we only see a sliver of their lives - "How could s/he ... ?". I think we need to remember this when dealing with others that saw their lives with the clarity we see our own, we'd judge them differently. Since we're not privy to that view, we have to be aware that we don't see enough to base a judgement on and just let go. This is related to " your fellow as yourself." Just as a person would not judge himself or herself without a full picture, don't judge others in this shoddy way as well.

    3) Our society seems less tuned into the horrer of defaming or embarressing people. It was a strong part of my Yeshiva education. This is why I'm tuned into it. I think it needs to become a part of elementary and high school education on the general societal level. If there's a whole program in schools dedicated to gender related matters, why should there not be one even more dedicated to becoming descently behaved human beings?

  2. Choni, Well said and good insights. Your idea about teaching it in school has a good deal of merit!