Parshas Shoftim 5757

Judging Others Favorably

"Appoint judges and police in all the dwelling places
that Hashem has given to your tribes, and be certain
to administer honest judgement for your people."
(Deut. 16:18)

In this verse, the Midrash Tanchuma (Shoftim 4), uncovers a cornerstone of Judaism. ". . .and be certain to administer honest judgement for your people" - try to find a way to judge the people favorably. R' Yehuda ben Rebbi Shalom said, "Find a way to judge the people in a favorable light before Hashem."

In Ethics of the Fathers (1:6): "R' Yehoshua ben Perachyah said: Appoint a teacher for yourself, acquire (buy yourself) a friend, and judge everybody favorably". (Ha'vei don es kol HaAdom l'chaf zcus)

A Jew is enjoined find a way to find a way to judge his fellow in a favorable light. Even if there is clear evidence that somebody did something that would earn him our disapproval, you must search for a pretext to explain what you saw (or think you saw) in a positive way. Somehow, in your mind you must exonerate him. This is an expression of the inherent belief in the goodness of every Jew.

In this lies the real meaning of the words of R' Yehoshua ben Perachyah. He said, "Ha'vei don es kol HaAdom l'chaf z'chus", the whole person. Before one judges his friend, he must take into consideration the whole person, and all the circumstances that may have surrounded his actions.

This is a primary application of the concept of the "power of imagination", (Koach HaDimyon) which is explained at length by the Piaszcentzna Rebbe in several of his works. Sometimes, in order to judge a person in a favorable way, one must literally conjure up a story which takes into account the actions of the person. In such a way you will come to justify his behavior. This engenders a spirit of affinity and understanding since you have now put yourself in his place. Incredibly, the story you make up is often close to the truth!

What is the result of judging favorably? R' Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev, the Kedushas Levi writes, "When the Jewish People conduct themselves with compassion and kindness, and they judge one another favorably below in this world, it generates a similar reaction from "Above". Hashem in turn judges His people favorably, giving them the benefit of the doubt, and then his blessings of kindness and life."

R' Dovid Moshe, the Tchortkover Rebbe explained the Talmud, Tractate Shabbos (151b). "When ones deals compassionately with his friend, they deal with him compassionately from Above". The Tchortkover Rebbe asked, "With whom do they deal compassionately from Above? With the one who showed compassion or with the recipient of his compassion?" The passage has to be referring to the recipient of his friend's compassion", answered the Rebbe. "The angels above call out, 'Master of the World, here is a person, whose patience and kindness are finite, yet he deals compassionately with his fellow. All the more so You, whose patience and kindness are infinite, You should treat him only compassionately, and show him all Your blessings!'"


In Navardok, the home of the famous Yeshiva of the same name, there were no dormitory facilities, the young men had to rent rooms in town. Most landlords were happy to have yeshiva boys as tenants since they were clean and considerate. One woman, a widow with a young son, had a large twenty room house. She was very bitter, and made all sorts of trouble for the boys. She often yelled at them and ridiculed them. On some Friday afternoons, she turned off the water supply, so that there was no hot water for bathing. Other times, she turned off the electricity for no apparent reason. After a while all the boys moved out. Only Yosef Geffen remained.

One morning, as Yosef was walking home, the woman saw him coming and began to scream at him, "You must be crazy! How can you still stay in my house? You see that all the others boys have moved out -- why do you insist on staying? Why not get out like they did?"

He paused and answered her gently. "I stay here for your sake. I realize that you live alone and I fear that one night you might fall or become ill and call out for help and there would be no one to hear your cries. I understand that you are only yelling at us because of your frustration at being widowed and because you struggle to support yourself."

Her demeanor immediately changed. She turned pale. She had expected a sharp remark. She fell to her knees and begged his forgiveness. Afterwards, she never said anything but kind words to the yeshiva boys. She was no longer mean and nasty, and the boys started moved back in until the house was filled.

Yosef however, even though he continued to live there, always sneaked himself in the side door. Whenever the landlady would see him, she would begin to apologize profusely all over again. Source: Around the Maggid's Table, R. Peysach Krohn

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