Rav Yisrael Salanter’s 13 Midos- #10

Humility: Recognize your own shortcomings and disregard those of your fellow man

Ahh, the time-honored debate between anavah and ga’avah…well not really according to Rav Yisrael. He takes a different spin on what everyone from the Ramchal to Rabbi Dr. Twerski says about humility, in my humble opinion (no pun intended).

Recognize your own shortcomings and disregard those of your fellow man.” This is a classic example of how bein adam l’atzmo (how we relate to ourselves) can flow into bein adam l’chavero (interpersonal relations). The first step in true humility or anavah is to know where we are lacking.
I think that I need to be very aware of where I fall short. I know, since I started blogging about the 13 Midos, I’m much more sensitive to what my own shortcomings are. It’s important to know what my accomplishments are, but even more important for me to know what areas I need to work on.

An idea attributed to the Baal Shem Tov comes to mind. It’s said in his name that when we see negative midos in others it’s really a reflection on those same midos that are lacking in ourselves. For example, let’s say you look in your spouse’s van and notice that it’s not so clean. And you happen to say something to your spouse about it (hypothetically, of course). The odds are that your car isn’t too clean either! It’s easier to say or think something negative about someone, but that’s exactly why we shouldn’t (more on this idea in a future posting). It’s just bad manners (which is different than bad midos) to point the finger at the other guy. It’s also hypocritical.

“…disregard those of your fellow man” is the tricky part. There’s a great line by Rav Kook that I love. He said that he would rather be guilty of baseless love, than of baseless hatred. Most people have some quality that we can admire, even beyond the “Yiddishe Neshama” factor. It’s really a sensitivity training issue. On the most basic level, there’s always something that someone else can do better than we can. Looking at that one thing instead of what someone is lacking is a good start. Each time I deal with someone, I need to stop looking at their shortcomings. There’s so much to gain by finding traits in others that I can grow from. That helps me come to grips with my own shortcomings.

But what about the person who took my parking space on the street? Or the person who is always interrupting me? Or the obnoxiously loud family at the park on Shabbos? Or the person who shoved me just get that last copy of Orchos Tzadikim that was on sale? Those people only have “shortcomings”.

Alright, sometimes when dealing with others we need a little creativity in the “dan l’kof zechus” department. I constantly tell myself enough that how I treat others is directly connected to my active relationship with Hashem.

By not focusing on others’ shortcomings I’m fulfilling the mitzvah of Ahavas Yisrael, which is a pretty good thing, in my opinion.

8 thoughts on “Rav Yisrael Salanter’s 13 Midos- #10

  1. Mata Hari

    Beautiful. I’m not sure I agree though about the fact that we find the flaws in others that are really flaws in ourselves – I’m trying to backtrack and think of the last time I criticized someone (in my mind not out loud) – and I don’t think it was in an area where I feel I myself am lacking. I’ll have to think about that some more. It is hard though to grant someone leeway when they do something to tick you off — we all need to work on that.

  2. Neil Harris

    Bari- Speak for myself? Personal mussar is only good when you listen to yourself. In my case, I can read it,too.

    SephardiLady- What until “Neil’s 13 Midos of Day School Administration” lol

    SWFM- I thank you

    ASJ- Hasn’t that ever happend to you? The best is when you hold the door for people as they run in late for shul..without getting a “thanks”.

    LV- See, brevity is the soul of wit.

    MH- Think about room-mates, siblings, friends…we are quick to identify where people are lacking. If judging others favorably was a ‘no brainer’ then it would be a mitzvah. One of results of mitzvah performance is that it help to polish our character traits.

  3. zev ashkanazy


    **you wrote: Alright, sometimes when dealing with others we need a little creativity in the “dan l’kof zechus” department.**

    I remember when I was in Sha’alvim an “alter” Bochur (he was in Shiur tet) told me “Dan L’kaf zchut aval lo li’shtut.”

    Kol Hakavod on the series.



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