Question & Answer With Neshama - Pretending Not To See Me
A Simple Jew asks:
I tend to recognize faces. Even if years go by, I will still remember a face even if I don't remember the person's name of where I had seen them before. On the other hand, there are times when I recognize someone and they seem to pretend not to know or recognize me in return. I may see them on a weekly or monthly basis and yet they look right by me as if I were a total stranger. They will not acknowledge my presence even when standing only a few feet away.
Psychologically, how would you explain this phenomenon?
Truly amazing how Hashem has created the human being, with the head as the control tower and the face as the window to the neshoma. Realize that each human face looks the same, but at the same time is totally different from one another. (Gemara Sanhedrin: Each person was created with a distinct face, mind and voice. Daf 38, Amud Alef).
The Alter of Slobodka made his life’s endeavor to emphasize the Gadlus HaAdom. When you look into the face of a yid you are seeing the Tzelem Elokim.. When you look into a person’s eyes, you are looking into their soul. Principles impressed upon the young and not so young impressionable yeshivaleit during their years in Lithuania.
Now we fast-forward to our generation. The principle has not changed. But maybe we have? Do you notice how hectic some lifestyles have become? Have lost our ability to relate to other people with an open ear, understanding heart, and true empathy? Empathy is compassion and understanding for the other person “in his situation”, not pity. When you look into someone’s eyes you are acknowledging the life of the other person, and the wisdom of the Creator, both at the same time.
When we lose site of this, mere greetings can become mundane. Do I want to “see” this other person, which means having to stop and give a few words of greeting? Do I want to “avoid” this person coming my way, because I don’t want to get into dialogue with him or her? Do I harbor “negative emotions” toward this person?
In my opinion, this all stems from what is going on in our own minds and hearts. When you think good thoughts, you influence your own mood and the feelings of other people. There is an chassidishe saying, “Tract gut und es vet zein gut!” (Think good and it will be good!)
This does not negate or make light of troubles that chase after all of us. It is meant to deal with them differently. Acknowledging the “other person” by giving a “hello” or “Shabbat Shalom” with a warm, sincere smile on our own faces will say “we are all in this together, let’s make the most of it, and help bring Moshiach with our little acts of goodness and kindness.
A component of our minds is the ability to remember every face, experience, et al. that makes up the moments of our lives. When we finally reach the Olam HaEmes, we are shown a sort of video of every moment of our lives in Olam Hazeh. No place for denial.
However, when you run across someone who won’t look you in the eyes, or say hello, or even acknowledge your being, day after day … then, this might be your challenge to be first in the relationship to break that barrier, at least for cordiality.