In Primo Levi’s The Mirror Maker, he tells the story of Timoteo, one of a long line of mirror makers. Timoteo was not happy just making mirrors in different shapes and sizes. He spent all his free time designing mirrors that would change your shape and size.
One day he arrived at the perfect mirror: the Metamir. It was the size of a business card, flexible and adhesive: in fact it was meant to be applied to the forehead. One could stick a Metamir on anyone’s head and see how that person perceived him.
The Metamir on his mother’s forehead showed an angel. His girl friend’s Metamir showed a weak, misshapen man, and the relationship ended. He found a woman whose Metamir showed a handsome man with a perfect body. For some reason, when he looked in the Metamir on Emma’s head, he fell head over heels in love. She became his new girl friend.
He distributed several Metamirs to his friends. He noticed that no two images coincided: in short, a real Timoteo did not exist. He further noticed that the Metamir possessed a conspicuous virtue: it reinforced old and serious friendships, it rapidly dissolved friendships that were due to habit and convention.
The Metamir did not sell and Timoteo had to go back to making flat mirrors, which were indeed of excellent quality, until the age of retirement.
I imagine that becoming a Metzorah is somewhat similar to viewing yourself in a Metamir stuck on the foreheads of your friends. The person wakes up one morning to find some serious skin discolorations. A Cohen is summoned, and before he enters the home to examine the blemish, the family is instructed to empty everything from the house. If the Cohen declares the person to be impure, everything in the house becomes Tamei, or impure.
Neighbors speak. Word spreads through the neighborhood that a Cohen has ordered the house to be emptied. Everyone knows that their friend and neighbor may be a Metzorah. They also know that if he is a Metzorah, it is because he is a gossip. The police arrive to control the growing crowd and all the reporters. People are pushing against the line to be able to hear the Cohen as he exits the house to make his declaration.
It is at this moment that the process becomes the blemished person’s Metamir. How do his friends and neighbors react? Do they say, when interviewed by the BNN, “I always thought there was something wrong with that guy”? Or, do people say, as encouraged by the Sages, “We should all pray that he repents of his sins and be healed?”
Their reactions to his affliction will be a Metamir’s report on how each of those people perceives him.
The Metzorah is not the only one with access to a Metamir. The person who becomes uncomfortable because he knows that he too often speaks of others and may be next to become a Metzorah is being granted a Metamir’s view of how he sees himself. The person who shuns the entire family of the Metzorah, the wife and children who have been removed from their home and need a place to stay, has a Metamir’s view of his compassion, if he dares to look.
Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day is a stark Metamir that reminds us how others perceive us, Jews. We may not need a Metamir. All we need to do is read the news and we can see how we are perceived. We also refer to the day as Hagevurah – the Day of Power, for it was chosen because of the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. We do not want to look in the Metamir and see that others perceive us as weak. We prefer to be seen as fighters.
There is a part of me that is bothered by the choice of dates, as I see so many of those who did not physically fight the Germans as mighty warriors. The woman, who grabbed a German’s bayonet to circumcise her son before being shot and dumped in a pit, was a super hero. The man who asked a Halachic question whether he could bribe a guard to save his son if it meant that someone else’s son would replace his son on the death list, is at least as great a warrior as the Warsaw Ghetto fighters. The people who sang Ani Ma’amin as they were being gassed were great heroes, as were the people who survived and rebuilt their lives.
The only Metamir I want to see is the one worn by God. I want to know how He perceives me, us, all of His creation. I don’t need Timoteo’s mirror. I have my answer every time I pray, in every word of the Torah, and in every Mitzvah that forms my service of Him: He loves me and sees me at my absolute best. It is that view I want to maintain in my mind’s eye as I go about my life. It is in that view that I find my Gevurah, my strength.
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