Eliezer Shemtov
Trying to make a difference

Why Do We Have Two Eyes?

Tazria-Metzora

“Why did G-d create us with one mouth, one nose and two eyes?”, little Yoseph Yitzhak asked his father.

“It’s because certain things are meant to be looked at with the right eye, with a benevolent eye, and other things are to be looked at with the left eye, with a critical eye,” his father smilingly explained. 

It is more than obvious that the way we interpret what we see defines our reactions.

It is not all that simple to be sure if your interpretation of what you see is correct. Did that guy just do something good or bad? It is not easy to distinguish between objective realities and “realities” that are nothing more than the product of our own distorted perspective.  

No one likes to be proven wrong. Although difficult to understand, the human ego is so stubborn that it resists being corrected even if its error leads to its own unnecessary harm.

So, when you see a flaw in another’s behavior, and it distresses you, it would be a good idea to stop for a moment and reflect on whether your conclusions are based on reality or on your own imaginations. Are you basing your opinions on facts, or are you defining facts based on your own opinions or maybe even preferences?

In this week’s reading, Tazria-metzora [1] , we read extensively about the phenomenon of tzaraat —an affliction that could appear on one’s skin, clothing, or walls of the house— and what needed to be done in the event that it occurred. It would seem to be a not very relevant topic nowadays since it was an unnatural phenomenon that existed only at the time when the Holy Temples existed [2]. There are, however, details that transcend the specific issue of tzaraat and can teach us a lot about the topic at hand here, namely: the perception and definition of reality. Let’s explore some of them here.

When someone would have apparent symptoms of tzaraat, he would have to go to the Kohén (priest) to determine, according to color, size and other considerations, if it was indeed a case of tzaraat or not. The consequences in the case of it being tzaraat were not all that pleasant: Quarantine in the case of  tzaraat of the skin, burning of the clothes if it appeared on one’s clothing and demolition of the house in the event that it appeared on the walls of the house. 

How was it determined whether or not it was tzaraat?

Only a Kohen could determine whether or not it was a case of tzaraat. Why specifically a Kohen? Our sages explain that the Kohanim, descendants of Aharon the Kohen, were outstanding in the quality of Chesed, or kindness. They were therefore the ones that were entrusted to bless the people —an obligation and privilege they exercise to this very day— and that blessing had to be given “beahavah”, with love, as they themselves declare in the blessing they pronounce before fulfilling the Mitzvah of blessing the people.

Here we have the first lesson. Only one who loves is in a position to judge. If you do not love the person you are judging, your judgment will be biased. The first one to disqualify your judgment in that case should be yourself. If you don’t love the person, don’t judge him. Finding fault is more likely to be fair if it comes from someone who prefers not to give a guilty verdict.

Our sages point out that the Kohen was authorized to determine whether or not a stain was tzaraat in all but one case: if it was a stain that appeared on himself, on his clothes, or on the walls of his house. “Kol hanegaim Adam roeh, chutz minig’ei atzmo,” our sages rule [3]. In other words: One can evaluate and judge all afflictions, except one’s own [4]. There are several implications here beyond the merely technical one, that the Kohen is not authorized to determine the status of his own condition]: 

First of all, there is the idea that not only is he forbidden to determine his own situation, he is not even able to do so. One cannot judge oneself objectively, blinded as he is by the bribery of self-love. One does not see his own failures as such; he will either justify them or end up blaming others. 

The Rebbe —may his merit shield us— points out [5] that there is one more lesson embedded here. If we were to change the place of the comma and understand the word “chutz” as “out” in addition to “besides”, it would read as follows: Kol hanegaim Adam roeh chutz, minig’ei atzmo, which would mean: All the defects that one sees outside (i.e. in another), [come] from him. Beautiful! If you see spots on someone, it’s because you and your eyes are stained. A psychologist would say that you are merely projecting your own shortcomings onto the other. 

And finally: When spots appeared on the walls of one’s house, when communicating this to the Kohén, he did not say “I have tzaraat on the walls of my house”, but, rather, “I have ‘kenega’, something similar to tzaraat”. The Kohen would come check and determine if indeed it was or not tzaraat. Here we have yet another powerful lesson: do not rush to condemn even yourself. Always be aware of the possibility that when you see “something”, it may be that it is merely similar to “something”. Don’t jump to conclusions before making sure of the facts by confirming them through the more objective and qualified perspective of the “Kohen”.

So, this week’s tools are: 

  1. Thou shalt not be distressed in vain. When you see something negative in another or yourself, make sure it is really so before you get upset. 
  2. We all have two ways of looking at things. Let’s remember to use each eye for what it’s meant to be used for.

——–

  1. Leviticus 12:1-15:33
  2. Mishná, Negaim 2:5
  3. According to the opinion of Rabbi Meir, a Kohén is disqualified from judging tzaraat afflicting his family members as well. 
  4. Likutei Sichot, vol. 10, pág. 25
About the Author
Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov, born in in Brooklyn, NY in 1961. Received Smicha From Tomchei Temimim in 1984 and shortly after was sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, may his merit shield us, together with his wife Rachel to establish the first Beit Chabad in Montevideo, Uruguay and direct Chabad activities in that country. He has authored many articles on Judaism that have been published internationally. Since publishing his popular book on intermarriage, "Dear Rabbi, Why Can't I Marry Her?" he has authored several books in Spanish, English and Hebrew dealing with the challenges that the contemporary Jew has to deal with.
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