|Back to Parsha homepage||
by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler
|Archive of previous issues|
You shall not pervert judgement: You shall not favor the poor, nor honor the mighty: but in righteousness shall you judge your friend.
Once a man went from the Upper Galilee (in northern
Israel) to work for an employer in the south for three years.
After the holiday, the employer traveled to the worker's home with the man's wages and with three donkeys. One was laden with food, the second with drinks, and the third with delicacies.
When he arrived, after they had eaten and drunk together, the employer gave the worker his wages and all the other gifts, and said to him, "When you asked me for your wages, and I told you that I did not have any money, did you think that was the truth?" "I thought," answered the worker, "that you had obtained merchandise at a bargain price, and had spent all your money."
The employer said to him, "When you asked me for animals, and I told you that I did not have any animals, what did you think was the truth?"
"I thought," answered the worker, "that they were rented out to others."
The employer said to him, "When you asked me for land, and I told you that I did not have any land, what did you think was the truth? "
"I thought, " answered the worker, "that the land also was rented out to others."
The employer said to him, "When you asked me for fruit, and I told you that I did not have any fruit, what did you think was the truth? "
"I thought, " answered the worker, "that the fruit had not yet been tithed."
The employer said to him, "And after you asked me for quilts and Pillows, and I told you that I did not have any, what did you think was the truth?"
I thought, " answered the worker, "that you had given away all Your Possessions to the beis Ha-mikdash by making a vow of hekdesh [pledge to the Temple]."
The employer said, "I swear to you that that is exactly what happened. I had promised away all of my possessions because of Hurkanos, my son, who did not wish to learn Torah. And when I came to my friends in the south, they annulled my vows. And just as You Judged me favorably, so may G-d judge you favorably."
Despite both the remote possibility that the employer's answers were true, and the anguish he suffered, the worker judged his employer favorably. In marriage, where trust is its lifeblood, how much more must we go out of our way to view our spouses in a favorable light.
Reish Lakish pointed out two seemingly contradictory verses: "It is written, 'in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor,"1 and it is written, 'Run fervently after righteousness."2 The latter verse means that you must be careful to investigate and judge exactly according to the letter of the law, while the first verse tells you to judge litigants as though they are righteous." Rav Ashi explained this apparent contradiction: "The latter verse is referring to actual judging, while the earlier one is suggesting making a compromise."
Another explanation of the verse, "In righteousness shall you judge your neighbor," 3 is that you should consider your friend as one who is innocent.
Rabbi Yochanan said, "There are six things which , if a person does them, he eats their fruits in this world, while the principal reward remains for him in the World to Come. They are: bringing in guests, visiting those who are ill, getting up early to learn Torah in a beis midrash, concentrating in prayer, rearing one's children to learn Torah, and evaluating one's friend as one who is innocent."
How could the Torah allow one to compromise, and to judge other than according to the letter of the law? Why is it a mitzvah to judge another person as if he were innocent? In what way does this compare to the other mitzvos, such as bringing in guests and visiting those who are ill? What can we learn from the story of the worker in the Galilee?
"in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor." Even though the Torah provided explicit laws relating to every possible subject in monetary matters, it still left room for the judges to arbitrate a compromise. The reason for this is that the Torah prefers that people in certain instances compromise with one another, rather than insist on the letter of the law. For example, in monetary matters when the two sides agree, the decision reached through compromise is legally acceptable, even though the outcome is not what the Torah would have ruled in such a case. This is a lesson for all disputes. Even though you are right, or at least think you are right, since the other side does not think so, it is always wisest to find a solution that will be agreeable to both sides.
Money often generates disagreements, but money comes and money goes, while friendships should last forever. It is a pity that for the sake of money or because of stubbornness one should lose a friend. Even judges, who must pursue objectivity and may seem to be above non-legal concerns, are commanded to try to make a compromise which will bring about peace between both sides.
"Another explanation of the verse, 'In righteousness shall You judge your friend,' 4 is that you shall consider your friend as one who is innocent." Our Sages are revealing to us here that when you think about another person, you should act like a judge, in the sense that a judge must be careful not to convict a person unless he is a hundred percent sure that he is really guilty. So too, we are not allowed to think about someone negatively unless we have absolute proof that he truly deserves such an evaluation. We can learn this concept from the way our Sages interpreted the above verse. Even though on the simple level it is discussing only how judges should act, we can learn that every person should judge his fellow with the same presumption of innocence as a professional judge.
Even if a person sees with his own eyes that a friend is doing something wrong, he can still judge him favorably concerning his motives. Perhaps his friend does not know the law, or perhaps he forgot, or perhaps he erred only once and now regrets his error. The Torah wants us to presume that every person is innocent until proven guilty.
Regarding Rabbi Yochanan's statement of the six things that are rewarded in this world as well as in the World to Come, we can see that he intends to teach us that judging others favorably is tremendously important because it is grouped together with the mitzvos of visiting those who are ill, bringing in guests, and rearing one's children to learn Torah. We are being shown what a great accomplishment G-d considers it when one thinks positively about others. It is as if that person is accomplishing one of the most important things in the world, which is apparent because the mitzvos it is grouped with here are among the most fundamental. We can also learn from the abundant reward that these mitzvos receive, how worthwhile it is to pursue them.
Our Rabbis have taught that one who judges his friend as innocent will himself be judged as innocent. our Sages are referring here to the fact that every human being is judged by G-d according to his actions. All of us certainly want to be judged favorably, since the results of this judgement are so significant. We are being informed that we can expect to be judged in a manner similar to the way in which we Judged others, measure for measure. Thus, even if this seems difficult, we should try to think well of others so that we not lose this precious opportunity to be judged favorably ourselves.
The story of the worker teaches us to what extremes we must be willing to go to judge other people favorably. Here was a wealthy man with a beautiful house, vast fields and many animals, and yet he claimed that he had nothing to give his worker who had served him faithfully for three years 'Without receiving a salary. If we had been in this worker's place, we would most likely have spat in his face, or hurled some terrible insults at him for telling such "outright lies," and for treating such a faithful worker so treacherously. But instead, the worker believed his employer, and thought that there must be some explanation, even though his common sense may have told him otherwise.
In marriage the two vital lessons to be learned from the above story and verse are: be ready to compromise and judge spouses favorably. These are two important components of a successful marriage. Judging others favorably brings about peace. This is supported by the wording in our preliminary morning prayers when six mitzvos are mentioned whose fruits are enjoyed in this world, while the principal reward is kept for the World to Come. The final mitzvah "to judge our friend favorably" is replaced by "to bring peace." This is the case because it is understood that by judging your friend favorably, you will succeed in bringing about peace.
One can always find something to fight about. In fact, every little matter can be a source of tension if you let it. But it is always better not to make an issue over unimportant matters and to avoid fighting over every little thing a married couple disagrees upon. Otherwise, there will never be marital peace. Here is where compromise plays such an important role. Each one should be prepared to give in, until they find common ground upon which both can agree. It does not pay to be stubborn, since you might lose something much more precious than the petty matter You are arguing about - namely, the peace and harmony Of Your home.
One way of avoiding those dreaded arguments is to always keep in mind your main purpose for being married: to share love and closeness. This has nothing to do with those petty matters you argue about. It is something much loftier and more enduring. Therefore try to focus on your real goals in marriage, and be willing to compromise when it comes to the details.
Judging your spouse favorably is an important element in preserving peace and happiness in marriage. A common example of this might be a situation in which you want to buy something and your spouse disagrees. Instead of getting angry, you can judge your spouse favorably and try to understand his or her point of view. By putting yourself in your spouse's situation, you may not be so furious over his/her opposition, and you will thus be able to reach a compromise.
There are many examples of how you can judge your spouse favorably. A husband should think that his wife had so many distractions that she simply did not have time to prepare dinner or to be ready on time when they are going out somewhere together. She should think in a similar vein when he comes home late from work. Instead of thinking the worst, first judge your spouse positively, and then you will be able to discuss the matter calmly and fairly.
Having a negative image of your spouse is something that must be corrected immediately. Work on your heart, and constantly remind yourself of the importance of Judging others favorably. We all desire to be judged favorably by G-d and by others, but to obtain that, we must be the first to make the effort.
1. Vayikra 19:15
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network