Judging Favorably Leads To Favorable Judgment

Will Gotkin
Judging Favorably Leads To Favorable Judgment
August 31, 2010

We all make judgments in our lives. For example: “If I make a left turn, will I get hit by on-coming traffic?” But we also judge ourselves and our fellow human beings on whether or not we or they are doing the right thing. When it comes to judging others, we have to take extreme precaution so as not to transgress the mitzvah of “With righteousness shall you judge your fellow” (Vayikra 19:15). [1] The Sages drove this message home stating: “Judge every person meritoriously (Avos 1:6).”[2] We are now in the month of Elul – an auspicious time in which we devote a special amount of time and energy to teshuva (repentance), and we increase our tzedeka (charity) and ahavas Yisrael (love of fellow Jews). During Rosh Hashanah and the Days of Awe between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur our Creator judges us based on our behavior in the past year and determines what our fate will be for the next year. It is especially crucial as this time of judgment draws near that we work on judging others favorably if we wish a favorable judgment for ourselves to be rendered in Heaven.

Hashem’s treatment of us is always kind whether we realize it or not. However, our perception of His presence is determined by our actions as we are rewarded and punished midda kinegged midda or measure-for-measure. He also judges us by the same standards with we which we judge others. Rabbi Joseph Telushkin points out that

“there is something hypocritical about coming to synagogue on the High Holidays and beseeching G-d to look upon us favorably and treat us with mercy and forgiveness, if we are unwilling to act that way toward others. The Talmud teaches that G-d forgives the sins of those who don’t hold grudges and who forgive offenses committed against them (Rosh Hashana 17a). Only if we act in a forgiving manner toward others do we make ourselves worthy of G-d’s forgiveness.”[3]

Obviously judging favorably does not mean we willfully blind ourselves from reality. In order to achieve ahavas Yisrael we must be willing to see past the faults of others and give people the benefit of the doubt. Of course there are situations in which we cannot ignore that an evil deed has been done. However, in those cases, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, popularly known as the Alter Rebbe, suggests that we take into account the person’s circumstances that lead the person to sin.[4] The Lubavitcher Rebbe takes this even further by explaining that we can more than excuse others’ sins. We can even see them as merits when we consider that one is only faced by temptations that they have the ability to overcome.[5]

This past Shabbos marked the birthday of the Baal Shem Tov (the founder of Hasidism). Therefore I’ll close with one of his lessons. The Friedeker Rebbe recorded that the Baal Shem Tov taught the following: “When someone issues a ‘verdict’ on another, he is actually pronouncing his own verdict. For example, if one asserts that because of a certain misdeed another committed he is deserving of such-and-such punishment, he is actually issuing that verdict on himself. And conversely, if one says that because of a good deed or word that another has done he is deserving that G?d should help him in the areas where he is needing, that blessing, too, is fulfilled on him himself.”[6]

Will Gotkin is a frequent contributor to Gather The Jews.

[1] Artscroll Chumash, 661

[2] Kehot Publication Society, 29

[3] A Code of Jewish Ethics Volume 1, 189

[4] Pirkei Avot. Kehot Publication Society, 29

[5] Ibid, 29

[6] http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1215054/jewish/Advice-for-Life-from-Rabbi-Israel-Baal-Shem-Tov.htm