The Torah in Parashat Chayei-Sara tells of Avraham’s servant’s experiences when he journeyed to Aram-Naharayim to find a suitable match for Yitzchak. After determining that Rivka, the daughter of Yitzchak’s cousin, was the destined match, the servant asked Rivka if he could lodge in her home. The family welcomed the servant, and when they sat down to eat, the servant began telling his story, starting with the announcement, “Eved Avraham anokhi” – “I am Avraham’s servant” (24:34).
The Gemara in Masekhet Bava Kama (92b) cites this verse as the source of the adage, “Something unflattering about you – say it first.” Rather than wait for Rivka’s family to inquire about him and discover a “milta gena’a” – “embarrassing thing” – about him, that he was a servant, the servant instead offered this information right from the outset, when he first introduced himself. The Gemara here teaches that rather than risk embarrassment by concealing unflattering information about oneself which is likely to eventually be discovered, one should instead offer this information himself, which is less embarrassing than leaving it to be discovered by the other party.
This adage can be applied not only to the image we project to other people, but also to the image we project to ourselves. Our “milta gena’a” – the less impressive aspects of our characters – will come to our attention eventually. At some point, we will have no choice but to acknowledge our faults, and then do what we can to address them and improve ourselves. Unfortunately, we tend to stubbornly deny our shortcomings, preferring instead to feel perfectly comfortable with who we are and avoid the unsettling thought that we have serious flaws. And so when we are finally forced to acknowledge them, we feel ashamed of the mistakes we’ve made, and of the denial and self-delusion with which we’ve lived. The Gemara here urges us not to wait to make an honest assessment ourselves, and to humbly acknowledge our weaknesses (of course, while also noting our strengths), so that we spare ourselves the shame and angst of mistakes and failure that could have been avoided had we began working to improve earlier.