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Maybe You're Making a Mistake"You shall commit no injustice in judgment; you shall not favor a poor person or respect a great man; you shall judge your fellow with righteousness."[Vayikra 19:15]
(Adapted from Yalkut Lekach Tov, Vayikra)
Every person is ultimately a judge. Every moment of our lives we sit on the judge's bench. And we are obligated to judge our neighbors righteously. The gemara learns out from this possuk our obligation to "judge your neighbor on the scale of merit." (.ל שבועות) זכות לכף חברך את דן הוי Unfortunately, most people are inclined to judge people negatively. At least, this is the first thing that comes to a person's mind when they judge a person's actions.
This is an old problem. Even Halacha has to take this bad habit into consideration (see Orach Chaim 671:8). On Chanuka, everyone has a mitzvah to light Chanuka candles in his front door (according to the minhag at the time of the gemara, still practiced in some places in Eretz Yisroel). What if he has 2 doors facing the street? Then he must light in both of them. Why? Because people passing by the one door without candles with say, "Oh my! He doesn't light Chanuka candles." They won't think that he lit in the other doorway, and so they will come to suspect him of irreligiosity.
Look at the terrible injustice that's been committed here. It really should have been the opposite. When they see an empty doorway, they should have immediately assumed that he probably lit in the second doorway.
So we see that this horrible malady has been around for quite a long time. Especially in today's world where we live in a society with a lust to hunt, and dig, and uncover every shortcoming possible in the other person. It's become a dog?eat?dog world.
What makes it even worse is the fact that at the same moment people judge the other unfavorably, they judge themselves absolutely favorably.
Great people are of just the opposite makeup. The Chazon Ish wrote, "the refined of spirit indulge themselves in the ultimate good. They use two opposites at one and the same time: they accuse themselves of every possible deficiency, while painting others in the most positive light possible, even though they are chained to corruption." (Emunah u'Bitachon 1:11)
Therefore it seems obvious that our heart's desire should be to be associated with those who censure themselves while judging others favorably. Rav Sholom Schwadron (Sha'al Avicha I p. 245) relates a pertinent incident that occurred in Yerushalayim during WWI. The Yerushalmis were suffering terrible poverty and starvation. At that time there lived in Yerushalayim a very respectable individual who earned his living as a mohel. In the bookcase in his living room lay a French gold coin, which was so valuable it could sustain a whole family for a year.
One day, this mohel's little boy spotted the shiny coin. He took it and ran to the corner grocery to buy some candy. When his father returned home and saw the coin missing, he immediately investigated to find the culprit. When he discovered that his son had bought with it some candy, it was quite obvious to him that he most certainly had not received candy the whole worth of the coin. And since the storekeeper had not given him change, he immediately suspected him of pocketing the coin and making off with an enormous profit.
The boy's mother ran to the store and started screaming at the storeowner accusing him of stealing the coin. The storekeeper stood there in shock and protested, "I don't know what you want from me. He didn't give me any gold coin. He gave me a copper penny!"
The woman, however, was adamant. Just to make sure she went and interrogated the child from exactly where he had taken the coin, and to whom he had given it. There was no doubt that the coin in question was the French gold coin for which the child had received a few measly bits of candy. She continued screaming at the storekeeper. A large crowd gathered to see what the commotion was about and everyone took the side of the woman.
After swallowing embarrassment from all sides, the storeowner agreed to go to a Din Torah. After hearing both sides of the story, the Dayanim decided that the storeowner would have to swear. Even though the storeowner was ready to swear, the father of the child said he didn't want to cause another Yid to swear falsely and so he backed down and withdrew his claim from Beis Din. Nevertheless, the storeowner left Beis Din in humiliation. From that moment his mazal turned for the worse and he suffered a life of gehinom. He was accused of being a thief and most of his customers stopped buying by him.
Several years after this unfortunate incident, the mohel received an anonymous letter from a young man, a resident of Yerushalayim. He related that several years back, in the midst of the war, he had met this man's son in the street and spotted him carrying a very valuable gold coin. Being that he had sunk into terrible debt and was literally suffering from deadly hunger, he had taken the liberty of "borrowing" the gold coin with the intent of returning it as soon as his fortune changed. He shrewdly exchanged the gold coin with a copper penny without the boy realizing the switch. It was with this penny that the boy had bought his sweets.
"Now," concluded the young man in his letter, "my financial standing has improved and I wish to pay up my obligations. I ask of you to forgive me, because it was truly a situation of Pikuach Nefesh. I was literally starving to death!"
Finally the truth had come to light. The storeowner was totally vindicated. All this time He had been a totally upright and honest individual and had never taken any money not rightfully his. How true is the dictum of Chazal: "always judge your neighbor favorably."
Several years later, a tzaddik who had lived at that time period, elaborated on the lesson to be learned from this incident. He said, "All three characters of this story - the mohel, the storekeeper, and the young man - are already in the Next World. They have already stood in front of the Beis Din Shel Maala and given an accounting for their actions in this incident, and they probably have come out spotlessly clean. The mohel, in spite of the fact that he had terribly pained the storekeeper, is certainly blameless. He had gone to Beis Din and the Dayinim had obligated his defendant to swear. And the mohel had been gracious in waiving his rights.
"The storekeeper had probably gone straight to Gan Eden, having suffered such excruciating embarrassment and suffering.
"The young man, also, had probably been vindicated as he had acted out of duress due to his personal suffering.
"Who had gone to Gehinom from this story?" concluded the tzaddik in his speech. "All the people who had mixed into someone else's quarrel and passed sentence on the storekeeper. Who asked them for their opinion? Why did they have to automatically assume the poor storekeeper of any wrong?doing?" This is a superb example of the numerous ways in which people pass judgment on others. Unfortunately, all too often their deliberations aren't just. This is a result of their eagerness to criticize others. The result is all too often an unjust verdict on those they judge.
Therefore one must train himself to look at others with a good eye and try to find the saving grace in everything. Then he will come to judge people favorably even when apparently the person is in the wrong. Wouldn't life be more pleasant in a society of good?eyed people? No one would suspect anyone else of wrong doing and automatically life would be more relaxed and pleasant.
One who follows Chazal's dictum, will earn that Hakadosh Baruch Hu will judge him favorable and he will receive his reward in This World and the Next.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network