The Log and the Speck

It’s easy to see all the little deficiencies and annoying things in others, but not so easy to see our own much-larger character flaws.

Have you ever noticed how those who like to point out the flaws in others are the same people who seem to have the most excuses and justifications for their own character flaws? Yeshua warned his disciples against judging others for their faults and imperfections. He said, “Do not judge and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned” (Luke 6:37). He gave His disciples the example of the log and speck in the eye to illustrate the folly of condemning others.

Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye. (Matthew 7:3-5)

The Master’s own field of work in Nazareth may have inspired the illustration. He used the terminology of a carpenter. A “log” (i.e. dokos, δοκός) is a beam of timber, a plank of wood such as is used in a weight-bearing capacity in construction. The person who sees the speck of sawdust in his brother’s eye remains oblivious to the log in his own eye.

The Master’s saying implies that a critical person acutely observes the most insignificant flaws in the character of others but remains unaware of even the most glaring deficiencies in his or her own character. The Apostle Paul echoes the sentiment in a paraphrase of the Master’s saying about the speck and the log. He says, “You have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things” (Romans 2:1). The sages offered maxims similar to Yeshua:

  • Let us pick off the straws from ourselves before we do it to others. (y.Ta’anit 65a)
  • Do not taunt your neighbor with a blemish you yourself have. (b.Bava Metzia 63b)
  • Let us first correct ourselves; then let us correct others. (Lamentations Rabbah 3:40)

A generation after Yeshua, Rabbi Tarfon complained about the popularity of Yeshua’s speck-in-the-eye adage, saying, “I wonder whether there is anyone in this generation who accepts reproof, for if one says to him, “Take the speck from between your eyes,” he will answer, “Take the beam from between your eyes!” (b.Arakhin 16b).

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