Friday, February 02, 2007

Question & Answer With Neshama - Pretending Not To See Me

(Image courtesy of

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?

Neshama answers:

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.


At February 2, 2007 at 11:55:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We don't all have the same kind of memory. I tend not to recognize faces that are "out of context"; for example, if I run into a work colleague while shopping, I have trouble recognizing him. I need to see the person talk or smile before I'm sure it's the person I know. Often, I'll give a cordial greeting anyway, hoping to have the identity confirmed as soon as we begin speaking.

You might be interested in this quotation from Martin Buber's book, Tales of the Hasidim: Early Masters:

"Rabbi Rafael [of Bershad] asked his teacher: ‘Why is no face like any other?’ Rabbi Pinhas [of Koretz] replied: ‘Because Man is created in the image of G-d. Every human being sucks the living strength of G-d from another place, and all together they make up Man. That is why their faces all differ from one another.’"

At February 4, 2007 at 3:12:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shoshana, you are so right about the stimulae.

Perhaps we don't all have the same memory recall,
but the Torah indicates that we are designed to store all images/experiences of our lifetime, which then becomes called memory. Some of us need something to bring back those images.

An experience, a sound, or a scent (perfume, natural, or spice) can easily trigger a particular experience from our past. The smell of fresh cut grass brings back a scene from my early childhood often spent in the grass lawn outside where I lived. Also the sight and sound of an active locomotive reminds me when I used to look out my bedroom window to see the boxcars racing by atop a hill adjacent to my window.

Most especially, the sound of a dove cooing here reminds me of the beautiful doves in Yerushalayim in the early mornings.

Just some reminiscences.

At February 6, 2007 at 10:59:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, that CNN link no longer works. Instead, you can read about prosopagnosia on wikipedia (, if you're interested in this phenomenon. Although this is a neurological condition, I think many of us have the same problem to a milder degree. So, ASJ, when an acquaintance gives you a blank stare instead of greeting you, he may have this kind of memory malfunction.

Neshama, the way memory works is mysterious and wonderful. Hearing a fragment of an old song brings back childhood memories, and a whiff from the kitchen brings back Mama's cooking. As we remember past experiences, the sensory memory adds layers of enjoyment.

At September 8, 2008 at 4:53:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have never been good at remembering names.
I attended a wonderful lecture at NYC Medical Center. A young woman doctor, author and professor. gave an informative lecture about altheimers and memory.
REMEMBERING NAMES AT A PARTY--You will be introduced to so many different people nothing in common or reason that would make you remember. So, the doctor said-repetion-. If you meet for example,
'Fred' at a party--everytime you see him --say,"Hello Fred, how nic to see you again Fred. She said that people might consider you crazy but it works

At January 20, 2013 at 9:45:00 PM EST, Blogger in the vanguard said...

When you open the skull, you've got to be utterly careful or the brain with fly about as easy as does the dandelion seed head with a puff of air. It weighs practically nothing. It is the most sublime of all parts of the body, with a consistency much lighter than jelly. (I should know because I did some 60 autopsies that involved this work).

It is a most amazing phenomenon, that this "nothing" of mass, nothing substantial, runs our lives. It is truly the home of the spirit - the neshama elokit.

The psychologists, psychiatrists, neurophysiologists, or other self-proclaimed pundits of the mind - know the least about it! In fact, if you ask me, they're all crazy. This nothing of a mass controls how we do anything, but no one knows how.

Think about it. You don't know you're carrying anything, yet when you start davening the words come out in rapid sequential firing, rat-tat-tat-tat-tat like a machine gun. Where did all these words come from? They're not stored, that's for sure. Are combinations of nerve cell firings dispatched? I highly doubt it because, for one thing, there's no time for that. This brain of ours is truly an amazing mystery,

Remembering faces is another fascinating mind-mystery. But there has to be room in the body where there is accommodation of the spirituality, because, in the final analysis, that's where it all comes from, and what better spiritual counterpart in the physicality that the sublime brain.

God bless all Yidden and all who love us.


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