We often delude ourselves, or at least misjudge ourselves. Yet in order to achieve true spiritual excellence we’d need to know who we are at any given moment, the circumstances we find ourselves in just then, and what effect we’re having on others that very instant.
That’s to say, we’d need to develop self-awareness and other-awareness. But on two levels: spiritually and materially. Let’s explain.
In short, “spirit” is the heart of the matter, a thing’s inner presence, its electric center. While “matter” is the full and wide range of things associated with that thing. In human terms that refers to a person’s heart, soul, and intentions, as opposed to his or her circumstances and surroundings.
When we’re self-aware on a *spiritual* level, we know our hearts, our souls, and our intentions. And when where other-aware, we’re sensitive to others’ heart, souls, and intentions.
When we’re self-aware on a *material* level we’re aware of our surroundings, the way we affect others, and how much our actions matter to the other person. And when we’re other-aware on a material level we’re aware of the other’s surroundings, how he or she is affecting us, and how much what he or she is doing is affecting us.
But, again, we often misjudge ourselves and those around us– both materially and spiritually– simply because we’re often not self- or other-aware.
As such, we very often undervalue the things we do, and forget the good intentions we have, and the kindly and sensitive ways we respond to others in many situations. And contrarily we oftentimes overvalue ourselves, and discount our untoward intentions, how often or to what extent we hurt others or lapse into wrongdoing.
Among the many things Mussar (Jewish ethics and values) teaches us is the art of self- and other-awareness. And it places great weight on those skills, in the belief that each one of us is ultimately reponsible for his or her spiritual station at each and every moment. As such, we’d need to be aware of what we have in mind, what we’re feeling, and what effect we’re having at any given moment if we’re to do what’s right.
Now we begin to understand the significance of Rabbeinu Yonah’s statement here that “if you repeat a sin ten times over (for example) you’re considered to have committed ten separate sins”.
At first glance this seems to be as redundant as saying, “Do ten things wrong and you’ve done ten wrong things.” But the truth behind this statement– its spirit– comes through once we understand it in light of what we said above.
Its point is that when a person is *oblivious* to self and others on both a spiritual and material level, he tends to look at things broadly and superficially. So if he happens to mock people insensitively, when pushed to own up to his faults he’d only claim to have one: he sometimes mocks people.
“Shoot me!” he’d say, “So I make fun of people sometimes!”
Rabbeinu Yonah’s point is that if such a person were to somehow be moved to teshuva (i.e., to draw closer to G-d) he’d need to become self- and other-aware enough to realize that *each instance* of mocking someone was itself a sin. Everyone he’d mocked would have to be apologized to, for each incident. And that the converse is true as well– each instance of *goodness* would itself be an incident of spiritual excellence.
If we’re wise we, too, would be self- and other-aware enough to realize how shallow we sometimes are in our moral assessments.
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