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MIRROR, MIRROR ON THE WALL
King Solomon’s famous life mantra seems a little strange. כַּ֭מַּיִם הַפָּנִ֣ים לַפָּנִ֑ים כֵּ֤ן לֵֽב־הָ֝אָדָ֗ם לָאָדָֽם As water reflects one’s face, so too, the heart of one man reflects the heart of another. (Mishlei 27; 19) If someone is not being nice to you, he is reflecting you in some way. Try to be nice to him, and you will see a change in his heart as well.
Why did King Solomon use water in his parable of reflection? Were there no mirrors in his time? Didn’t the women of the desert give their copper that they used as mirrors in Egypt for making the basin in the Mishkan?
The Baal Shem Tov gave a brilliant answer, one that can change your whole social life. The uniqueness of the reflection of water is that you need to bend over to see it clearly. If King Solomon had used a mirror on the wall as the parallel, you would not have to lower yourself to see the relationship reflection. Only the reflection of water requires you to kneel and bring down your inflated ego to a healthy place. And this is the secret of ואהבת לרעך כמוך. And you shall love to your friend as you love yourself. Why does the Torah add the letter ל, “to” your friend? Just say, “And you shall love your friend, like yourself”? The answer is if you want to begin to love your friend, you must come closer to him. What does this mean?
There is another uniqueness in the reflection of water that is paralleled in relationships. This reflection parallel is mindboggling. When you are far from the water, your reflection is bigger than life, out of proportion. When you bend over, when you get close, your reflection gets smaller; it becomes more real. What is the lesson of size dependent on distance in the reflection of water? And what is its relevance to relationships?
When you are far from people, it is because you are arrogant in some way, shape or form. When you are close to people, it is because you are humble with those people. If you find that other people are being haughty, it might be because you, yourself, are too far from them. If only you would humble yourself, if only you would get closer, you would see their humble side as well. As your reflection gets smaller, so does theirs. If you wish to improve a certain relationship, find the humility you need to fix it. It takes soul searching, but it really works.
Arrogant people aren’t well-liked. After fifty years of corporate experience, Aldo Papone, senior advisor to American Express, wrote the following: Arrogance, at its worst, creates a momentum that insists on your downfall and cannot be appeased. We’ve all seen the bloodlust that occurs when the public senses a weakness in the high and mighty – a corporation, a candidate, or a multimillion-dollar athlete. Arrogance must be punished, and only a display of remorse and humility will get you off the hook. (Aldo Papone)
Arrogant people are arrogant because they do not realize that they are arrogant. Arrogance is not having your nose in the air. It is much more subtle. It’s a false perception of G-d’s blessings. If you were blessed with amazing parents. If you were gifted with a great mind. If you were lucky to find a Rebbi/ mentor/ coach. If G-d granted you wealth and its perks/ looks/ voice/ height/ wit/focus/ patience/ self-discipline/optimism/ sensitivity/ social savvy/ etc., it does not mean you are better. It means G-d holds you more responsible. With great strength comes great responsibility.
The question everyone wants an answer to during Sefirat Haomer is, how could 24,000 students be sentenced to paying with their lives for a sin so commonly transgressed, for failing to show one another mutual respect?
R Boruch Mordechai Ezrachi explains that being the students of R Akiva, they were held responsible to emulate him. Being R Akiva’s student was not a matter of social status. It was not just about getting in to his Yeshiva. If you were his student, you had a certain strength, and therefore, you were held responsible for living his values. R Akiva’s students were unable to pass his Torah on to the next generation, because they were missing the pivotal trait of their great teacher.
Why specifically was this idea of respect, of humility, the essence of R Akiva’s greatness?
Rachel gave up everything she had to marry Akiva the shepherd. After 24 years of learning, R’ Akiva returned with 24-thousand students. Rachel came out to greet her husband in ragged clothing; she came and kissed his toes. Not knowing who she was and thinking that she was not mentally balanced, R Akiva’s students started to push her away. R Akiva told them, “All of my Torah learning and yours is in her merit”. Real Torah learning follows humility. This was R’ Akiva’s message to his students, but they just did not get it. R Akiva’s humility was his greatest strength. That is how he surpassed, with a 40-year late start, all the great Rabbis of history. Because the Torah, which is similar to water, goes into the low places. Just like it only fits into an Ark that had all “half-measurements”.
With great strength comes great responsibility. If you have something great about you, you are held responsible to use your greatness for great things. The reason why G-d allowed Isabel, the wife of Achab, to kill Navot for not giving them his family- inheritance vineyard ( as found in Melachim) was that Navot sinned by not using his beautiful voice, the gift that G-d gave him, to sing on the Holiday in the Bet Hamikdash. כבד ה’ מהונך We read this to mean that if G-d blessed you with a beautiful voice, you should use it to honor G-d.(Rashi Mishlei 3;9) )Yalkut Shimoni Ki Tisa 404) It is your responsibility to serve G-d with the gifts He gives you. Not to be haughty because of your strengths.
As we get ready to accept the Torah, achieving humility is the first step. ונפשי כעפר לכל תהיה פתח לבי בתורתך G-d, Make my soul like the dust of the earth before all. And then open my heart in Your Torah. To accept the Torah we need to become one, a united people. ויחן שם ישראל נגד ההר. And there is no greater way than becoming one nation than by using your greatness to make others great.