Parashat Tazriah Metzorah
by Rabbi Yosef Farhi
In the ability to adapt to changes and bounce back from challenges, there are two lessons from this week’s Parashiot. One from Parashat Tazriah- the art of self-reflection. The other from Parashat Metzorah- the art of hope and reframing luck. The two skills work together to elevate one from a state of anxiety to a state of enthusiasm.When studying life coaching, I realized the following truism. In every sport, and in the game of life itself, those that survive are not the most intelligent, the strongest, or the fastest, but the ones who are most responsive to change. The skill of every game is adapting to the new normal, new competition, or the everchanging circumstances and not getting stuck on habitual thinking. When we perceive life as a “game,” there are so many insights we get.
Let’s take the sport of basketball as an example. One of the interesting things about basketball is that there are two ways to play defense. One-on-one. And zone. When does the basketball coach decide which way to set up his players in defense, one-on-one, or zone? It all depends on the offense. If the offense has a strong inside game, the defense is better playing “zone.” When the offense has a better outside game, the defense is best by playing man on man.
How do the players who are in the game pay attention to these changes and adapt accordingly? It is hard to notice the changes in the competition while you are in the game. That is why you need a basketball coach, sports coach, or a life coach, to be your thinking partner who stands on the sidelines while you are in the heat of the game. Because when you are in the game, you have too many blind spots, too many emotions.
In life changes as well, you need to continually be aware of yourself and the changes in the environment around you. How? Humans have the ability to self-reflect, to see themselves from outside of themselves. To achieve this external, objective perspective one needs Hitbodedut, or meditation.
We learn this concept from the Metzorah. When the Kohen classifies the Gossiper that he is a carrier of the spiritual Tzaraat, he must go about Social distancing, letting others know he is impure and to distance from him. וְטָמֵ֥א׀ טָמֵ֖א יִקְרָֽא The Shlah teaches that this is the Metzorah’s punishment for referring to others as “impure” and speaking badly about them. This is because of the Talmudic rule in psychology, that the faults you see in others, is something that you yourself have to work on. כל הפוסל במומו פוסל (Kiddushin 70b) If someone frequently calls others a “Mamzer,” illegitimate child, we check to see if he is a Mamzer himself. (Rambam I. Biah 19;17)
The honest to goodness town’s milkman was once summoned to court by the town baker. The baker would buy dairy products each morning from the milkman, and one morning noticed that the kilo of butter weighed less than a kilo. The baker started weighing the kilo of the milkman each day, seeing that the kilo of butter was always just short of a kilo. He brought this to the town’s court, “I can’t keep silent, knowing that he is stealing from the whole town!”
The judge opened the case, saying to the milkman. “I assume that you have a precise scale in your dairy factory.” The milkman replied, “Yes, sir. I have a scale, the old type, where I weigh against weights. I don’t have money for the kilo weight, though. Each morning, I use the kilo loaf of the baker on my scale as my kilo weight. If my kilo butter is less than a kilo, it is because the baker’s kilo of bread is less than a kilo. The judge clarified the matter, and nonetheless, it was the baker who was unintentionally not measuring his kilo, before selling it to others.
R Yisrael Salanter would say that the reason why the Gossiper needs to exit the three camps and live with social distancing, is because people don’t see their flaws on themselves. They only see their flaws in others. We are all bakers blind to our shortcomings and negative beliefs. By social distancing, one can see himself from outside himself, in third-person view, and notice his faults so that he can fix them instead of projecting them on others.
The way to detach from our blind spots and negative emotions is through Self Distancing. Adapters to change know that they need to practice the Self Distancing strategy frequently, assuming a third-person perspective to psychologically remove themselves from the events that happen to them. They need to see circumstances, markets, and environments that are changing so fast, from the perspective of an observer or from the vantage point of a “fly on the wall”, to be able to recommend themselves what to do.
There is another lesson from this week’s Parasha that can help in bouncing back and adapting to change. To always ask yourself the question, “How could this seemingly bad luck be good luck?” Not getting stuck on past emotions of fear, frustration, or failure, but by looking at the new normal, as a new world.
When one has Tzaraat on the walls of his house, he must break the stones, cement and wood, and deport everything to an impure place on the outskirts of the city. Rashi mentions that when the Jews of the times of Tzaraat would break their walls, they would find gold and treasures, hidden by the fearful inhabitants of the Land of Canaan during the forty years the Jews wandered in the desert. But why did G-d bless the Metzorah with treasures in his wall in such a way? Why through the difficulty of Tzaraat?
G-d is teaching us all a lesson, that good luck or bad lack is dependent on perspective. When a person is going through a rough time, times of punishment and pain, he should believe that good things hide in bad times, and look for it, because treasures always hide somewhere in the mess.
The reason why one speaks Lashon Hara is something called by psychologists as “splitting”, or all or nothing thinking, or black and white thinking, when one can only see the bad in the bad traits in others and not the good in the bad traits of others. But there is very little black and white in people, in things or in life events. Lucky or unlucky events can be seen as isolated, black or white events, or they can be perceived as part of a bigger circle of life. As FDR once said, I think we consider too much the luck of the early bird and not enough the bad luck of the early worm. People and their traits are not black and white; even seemingly negative traits have a time and a place. G-d wants us to retrain our thinking and find treasures in the negative circumstance and environments we are in. To constantly ask ourselves the question, “How can this seemingly bad thing have good hidden in it?” After all, you never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from.
It is hard to find the treasures in the game of life when we are in F3 mode (Fear, Frustration, Failure). An interesting story happened in my house this year, the first year I hid the Afikoman. Seventy shekalim for the finder, and I hid it inside the zipper on the bottom of the couch pillow. Ten minutes in, my oldest daughter stepped up on the couch to get a higher view of the room, and CRUNCH! She looked at me, not knowing what that was, and then she quickly unzipped the pillow and claimed her prize. All others were crying, wanting another chance. OK. Round two. Sixty shekalim for the finder, and I hid the crunched Afikoman in the fridge. Kids asked for hints, maybe if I can play with them “hot/cold.” I agreed to give hints, so I said “Cold” as if I was shivering. They thought I was telling them that they were far from the Afikoman, and every hint, saying “Cold,” as if I was shivering, they kept running around in circles in the house, until they cried out of frustration and despair. Only when my ten-year-old reached a game over mindset, he said, “Oh, the fridge!” and went running to pull it out! Only when he was able to step back from the situation and rethink the hint I kept repeating from a “Game Over” perspective, did he pick up on it.
Here are the Selfie Steps for Self Reflection and becoming a lucky person when faced with challenge and change:
- When angry or upset at someone, self reflect. Ask yourself how and where you yourself need improvement in this area.
- Meet with your destiny. Picture an extraordinary version of yourself in a day/week/month/year/ 5 year/10 year/20 year/Olam Haba. Date that future you, and ask him how he became so extraordinary. Now what advice is that future you advising the present you?
- For Self Reflection exercises, Go to https://positivepsychology.com/introspection-self-reflection/ Go to https://blog.iqmatrix.com/self-reflection Go to https://www.skillsyouneed.com/ps/reflective-practice.html
- Become a lucky person by doing the following: Find and create opportunities. Create self-fulfilling prophesies through positive expectations. Adopt a resilient attitude that helps to transform bad luck into good.