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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


With righteousness shall you judge your fellow. ((19:15)

When we notice a fellow Jew acting in an unbecoming manner we are obligated to give him the benefit of the doubt, so that we judge him favorably. We should make every effort to consider extraneous factors that could have played a mitigating role in his behavior. The Yesod V'Shoresh HaAvodah goes so far as to posit that even if the extraneous factor is far from plausible, one should nevertheless judge his fellow favorably. Even if he errs by doing this, he nonetheless fulfills the command of Hashem. In other words, we must look for a way - any way - to justify our fellow Jew's behavior. That is the mitzvah.

Many stories convey the message of B'tzedek tishpot amisecha, giving our fellow Jew the benefit of the doubt. Nonetheless, I searched for a practical one, reflecting an area in which we all make the same mistake, such as counting someone else's money and determining where and how he should spend it. I also sought a situation that supports the idea of judging someone positively - even if justification seems far-fetched. I came across the following vignette which I think presents a good model of the need to judge one's fellow favorably.

In one of the kollelim in Bnei Brak, the daughter of a young man became engaged to a very nice young man from a fine-- but poor-- family. Considering the fact that the girl's parents had limited resources, and the boy's parents had limited resources, the members of this man's shul decided to make a lekitah, collection, to assist with the wedding expenses. The young man was well-liked and respected, so that the people gave generously for the cause. The members of the shul raised a hefty sum, and they handed a check for the full amount to the father of the kallah with best wishes for a mazel tov and much nachas.

All went well until the invitations arrived. The invited guests noted that the wedding was to take place in the most expensive banquet hall in the area. People were shocked. How could this "poor" kallah have the audacity to accept charity from good people and pay them back by making the wedding in such a fancy hall? It just did not make sense. If these people had used their G-d-given intelligence, they would have realized that the more something does not make sense, the greater the reason to believe that there is an adequate explanation. Human nature, however, does not always allow for reason, or the option of thinking outside the box. We immediately react: some with second-thoughts about the individual's integrity; others spew forth everything from wise cracks to full-fledged slander. This is all because we do not easily give the benefit of the doubt, which is, understandably, often quite difficult.

The kollel fellow suspected that people were "talking," so he approached his rav and asked to be heard. The story he related is absolutely mind-boggling. "Rebbe, please do not think that I conceded to have my daughter's wedding held in that hall of my own volition. I did it to make someone feel good, to assuage his conscience. Shortly before I was about to 'close' on the less expensive hall, I received a call from the owner of the more expensive hall. He asked me, 'Are you so and so's son?' I replied that I was. 'Then I have something very important to share with you,' he said.

"He began the conversation by weeping bitterly. After a few moments, he composed himself and began his story: 'My father owned and administered the hall until about a year ago. Last week, shortly before he passed away, he called me to his bedside and told me about a Jew who had saved his life from certain death during the Holocaust. He even went so far as to put his own life in imminent danger. My father had never discovered the last name of his savior. He knew only his first name and the village in Poland from where he hailed. Throughout the years, my father had made every attempt to locate him, to return the favor, to no avail. I promised my father on his death-bed that I would continue the search.

"While we were sitting Shiva, the seven-day mourning period, one of the visitors mentioned that he had been born and raised in the same village from which my father's benefactor had originated. I asked him if he knew that person, and he answered in the affirmative. The person who saved my father's life was none other than your father! I now want to honor my father's deathbed request. Please allow me to cater your daughter's wedding at my hall free of charge. It is the least I can do to honor my father's memory!'

The kollel fellow continued, "I realized that people might talk, so I had to share the story with someone who will see to it that the truth is revealed." When the people heard the entire story, they were understandably embarrassed. Had they only given the kollel fellow the benefit of the doubt, their shame and his abuse might have been averted.

You shall not be a gossip-monger among your people. (19:16)

The Torah writes the word, amecha, your people, in the plural. Why does the Torah express this word in the plural referring to Am Yisrael, the nation of Israel, which by its very nature suggests singularity? Horav Yonah Mertzbach, zl, translates amecha as, against your people, rather than among your people, which would then have been denoted by writing amcha in the singular. He derives from here that the prohibition of lashon hora, evil speech, applies even when one slanders a large group of Jews, be it for their religious affiliation, their mode of learning, or their approach to Jewish observance or lack thereof. We do it all of the time, thinking hypothetically that lashon hora applies only when one speaks against an individual Jew. What about an entire group of Jews? Is that so different? After all, we do it all of the time! Apparently, this is also considered lashon hora - only on a grander scale.

You shall love your fellow as yourself. (19:18)

Horav Ben Zion Yodler, zl, known as the Maggid of Yerushalayim, related that in Yerushalayim a group of men convened a secret society whose primary goal was to care for each other. Every member of the group would look out for his fellowman and vice versa. What could be wrong with such a club? At the time, Horav Yehoshua Leib Diskin, zl, was Rav in Yerushalayim. Rav Ben Zion approached him to determine if he personally should join this society. "Rebbe," Rav Ben Zion asked after briefly describing the goal of this group, "should I join? After all, it is built upon the premise of V'ahavta l'reicha kamocha, love your neighbor as yourself."

The Maharil Diskin replied, "This is not love for one's fellow. This is love of oneself. A relationship that is founded on the principle of, 'You watch my back, and I will watch yours,' is nothing more than self-worship. Today, I will take care of you, but tomorrow, it will be my turn and you will take care of me. We have a mitzvah that commands us not to take revenge against someone who has wronged us, because we are to love all Jews - regardless of what they do for us or to us. You are absolutely not permitted to join this society."

The above vignette is a short episode, which is very telling. It demonstrates for us how a Torah giant was able to examine what seemed to be a noble cause and perceive that it was nothing more than a vehicle for self-gratification. The Torah's concept, "Love your fellow as yourself," is much more encompassing-- with deeper connotations-- than the secular "golden rule." We live by this concept, as it dictates and defines our individual and national personalities. Indeed, our ability to exemplify and execute this mitzvah properly should be part of our psyches.

Horav Yaakov Galinsky, Shlita, relates the following story. Horav Shimshon Wertheimer, zl, was Rav in Vienna which was part of the German/Roman Empire at this time, the end of the seventeenth century. While these countries were never known for their friendship toward the Jews, that period in history was particularly infamous for the constant harangues and libels generated by church hierarchy. As to be expected, the officials called Rav Shimshon to participate in a dialogue to "defend" the Jews for their "elitist" attitude and their "ridiculous" claim of being "G-d's Chosen People." The fact that the Torah clearly states, "And I have separated you from the peoples to be Mine" (Vayikra 20:26), did not seem to faze them. The dialogue was basically a waste of time, because Rav Shimshon would never be able to convince the non-Jewish majority of the Jewish People's chosenness. He had to demonstrate beyond any shadow of a doubt that the Jew was as claimed: different. He was unique ethically, morally and spiritually. His thought process was different. Everything about the Jew was different. Finally, he had the opportunity when the king said, "Enough! I must have clear, irrefutable proof that the Jew is different from his non-Jewish counterpart. I must see how the Jew distinguishes himself."

Rav Shimshon agreed. "My lord, I ask only that you have prepared two lavish dinners one for Jews; and one for non-Jews. I will show you how a clear distinction exists between the two, a difference which originates in our way of life as dictated by our holy Torah." It was done. The following Tuesday was declared a holiday during which all of the gentiles would attend a gala dinner at the palace, from six to eight in the evening, followed by a kosher dinner supervised by Rav Wertheimer for all the Jews, from eight to ten in the evening. The Rav explained that it would be best for the meals to be separate due to the Jews' dietary restrictions.

Tuesday evening everyone appeared at the palace prepared to partake of the lavish meal. The people were seated, and the waiters brought out the food. There was one small problem: no cutlery. There were no spoons or forks on the table. An announcement was made: "No one may eat anything without a spoon or fork!" When the people saw the mouth-watering food, but no utensils with which to eat, they began to grumble. "Where is the silverware? How can we eat without utensils?" they complained. Shortly thereafter, the waiter came out with the silverware. Everybody was given a spoon and a fork. There was one problem, however; each spoon was two and one half feet long.

How were they going to eat, they wondered, as they began to attempt every way to remove the food from the plate and place it in their mouths? It did not work. They simply could not take the food off the plate and feed themselves with such long utensils. Thus, they sat there for two hours, staring at the sumptuous food - starving. Without forks and spoons, they could not eat. So, they did not eat.

The gentiles might have been evil, but they were not totally mindless. They were going to wait around to see what the rabbi would do for his co-religionists. If the Jews were given regular-sized cutlery, they would cry foul. At eight o'clock, the Jews arrived at the second dining room where the food had all been prepared under the strictest kosher supervision. The Jews went to the washing stations, washed and made Ha'Motzi over the bread on the table. Soon, the waiters served the food on platters laden with all types of delicacies. Many of these people had not eaten properly in quite some time, as poverty prevailed among Jews in the Germanic lands. Alas, lo and behold, there was no silverware. How were they to eat - especially after it was announced that, without a spoon and fork, one may not partake of the food? The waiters brought out the same two and one-half foot long silverware.

Apparently, what seemed to be an insurmountable problem for the gentiles was not a challenge for the Jewish participants. Each one picked up a spoon or a fork and began to feed his neighbor! Fifteen minutes after the dinner began, all of the food was gone. The gentiles who were watching through the window could not believe the lesson that their eyes were conveying to them.

Rav Shimshon approached the king, reverently saying, "My lord king, does your highness see the difference between the Jew and the gentile? Why is it that it was the Jews who immediately thought of a solution to the problem confronting them? We are suffused in the commandment of 'Love your fellow man.' We never think only of ourselves - always of our fellowman. Is it any wonder that the solution was so easy to find?"

The Jew does not - and should not - live only for himself. As part of the larger body of Klal Yisrael, we are all responsible and care for one another. The following vignette from Horav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, zl, should enlighten us. The Talmud in Bava Basra relates that Turnusrufus Caesar asked Rabbi Akiva, "If your G-d loves the poor, why does He not sustain them? Why must they have to beg the more affluent members of their community to support them? Let G-d do it! Perhaps you might suggest that this is part of a poor man's punishment. If so, how can the wealthy people support them? Are they not going against G-d's will? Imagine, if the king would incarcerate a person and allow him to have only bread and water as part of his punishment protocol. If someone were to bring fish and meat to the prison, he would, essentially, be transgressing the king's command."

Rabbi Akiva replied with a parable: "This can be compared to the prince who has sinned against his father. The king must reluctantly teach his son a lesson, and he has him jailed and put on a regimen of bread and water. Someone, unbeknownst to the king, sneaks in to bring food and drink for the prince. Clearly, the king should be beholden to this man, because, after all, he wants his son to eat. Similarily, we are called banim laMakom, children of the Almighty. Those who support our poor, ingratiate themselves in the eyes of the King, our Father, Hashem. In addition, Hashem provides the poor people as an avenue through which the wealthy may atone for their insurrections, thereby sparing themselves from eternal punishment."

Rav Dessler asks: "Why was it necessary to give two reasons? It would have been sufficient to say that, as children of the Almighty, He is pleased that we are sustained. What is added by the fact that the poor help diminish the eternal punishment that the wealthy might warrant? Does the poor man have to go through a life of misery, poverty and humiliation just to spare the wealthy from Gehinnom, Purgatory?"

Rav Dessler derives a powerful lesson from here. One must learn to help his fellow even at the expense of his own personal humiliation and pain. That is how important it is to help another Jew. We may add that the phrase "another" Jew is inappropriate. We are all part of one large body called Klal Yisrael. It is not "me" and "him" or "we" and "they." It is "we" and "us."

You shall love your fellow as yourself. (19:18)

This has become the general maxim for defining relationships. It is, however, really a difficult principle to undertake. People vary by personality, temperament and acumen. Some are profound thinkers, exceptional scholars, social activists. There is also the common, simple Jew who, although he is a fine, decent person, lives a lackluster life with limited achievements and more limited social skills, often due to lack of opportunity. How does one love all of them in a similar manner? This question was asked of Horav Shmelke Horowitz, zl, of Nikolsburg. He replied that human nature dictates that one does not care for each one of his limbs and organs in the same manner. Indeed, if one is about to be the recipient of a blow to the face, he immediately blocks the effect with his hand. Likewise, if someone is about to strike him in the chest, he wards it off with his arm. Now, is his arm or hand any less painful than his head or chest? No, but they are less significant. A blow to the heart can be very dangerous; a concussion in the brain has a more traumatic effect than a clout on the hand. On the other hand, is there any question concerning a person's love for all of his organs?

A similar idea applies to ahavas Yisrael, love for our fellow Jew. The great Torah luminaries one reveres and loves symbolize the Jew at his zenith from the perspective of academics, ethics, and virtue. As the einei ha'eidah, eyes of the nation, they represent the organ that must be protected at all costs. There are various types of Torah scholars and individuals who are intricately bound up in the spiritual maintenance and leadership of our nation; they also have great individual value, which can be likened to the essential organs and limbs of the body. Perhaps they may not be the eyes, but they are not much different than the head and heart that must be protected at all costs. The common Jew is the body of the nation without which the primary organs have no motivation to function. The head, heart and eyes are of little value to the body that has deteriorated or the body in which an infection is running rampant throughout.

Clearly, we see that every organ of the body is essential and, thus, the target of a person's love. While he might demonstrate greater affection toward one or two very essential organs, it goes without saying that he cares deeply about them all. A Jew loves all Jews. He might demonstrate greater love toward the spiritual elite, but this does not diminish his love for all Jews.

What really is the meaning of kamocha, like yourself? Is it a descriptive term defining how much one should love his fellowman, or is it perhaps an allusion as to how one might successfully love his fellow man who is regrettably not his "speed" or just not very lovable? One of the Baalei Mussar, ethicists, relates an incident that occurred during one of his visits to the chronic disease floor of a major hospital. In one of the rooms, a young boy was suffering from a terrible disease that afflicted his entire body. His skin was either blistered, peeling or covered with foul-smelling boils. The pain was controlled with heavy doses of morphine, but the child's appearance and the noxious odor that permeated the room were difficult for even the most sensitive individual to tolerate. This rav was about to enter the child's room when he was preceded by the child's mother. "My sweet child," she exclaimed lovingly, as she entered the room. "Oh, my dear child, you are so sweet. You are such a munchkin. You are so cute!" She kept on adding platitudes of affection, as she caressed and kissed his disease-riddled body.

The rav later related this incident to his students. He then looked at them and asked, "Let me ask you: What was there about the child that his mother did not see? What did she not smell? Were her eyes not functioning properly that she seemingly did not notice what was obvious to anyone who entered the room? Clearly, she saw and she smelled. There was nothing about the child that eluded her. What was it then? Simply, he was her child. She was his mother. A mother's love transcends even the most frightening blemish."

This is the meaning of kamocha, as yourself. The closer one is to someone, the less anything about him will bother him. Blemishes, shortcomings, failings are of no consequence when someone is really close to an individual. The child's mother apparently saw her child's blemishes, but they did not bother her. He was her child. My fellow Jew is my friend. He is kamocha - a part of me. One really cannot get any closer than that. That is the Torah's idea of closeness - kamocha.

Va'ani Tefillah

Rabos machaashavos b'lev ish, va'atzas Hashem he sakum.
Many designs are in man's heart, but the counsel of Hashem - only it will prevail.

In the Talmud Kiddushin 39b, Chazal relate that Hashem combines a good thought with a good act, but He does not combine an evil thought with an evil act. This means that if a person had an improper intention that he did not carry out, Hashem does not hold him in contempt. If, however, his intention was for good, Hashem considers it in His reward. Thus, the Iyun Yaakov explains the pasuk: "Man is not spared from his constant evil thoughts, but, as these thoughts do not see fruition, he is in the clear. Hashem combines the atzas Hashem, proper and good thoughts, that are worthy of His blessing, he sakum, with the action, to gain even greater reward for the person."

The Gaon, zl, m'Vilna cites the Talmud Kiddushin 30b in which Chazal state that when one is confronted by the yetzer hora, evil inclination, pull him into the bais hamedrash. In the Talmud Berachos 5A, Chazal maintain that one should "anger" the yetzer tov, his good inclination, to prevail over the yetzer hora. If he is not successful, he should recite Krias Shma. If that does not help, he should remind himself of the day of death, which will frighten him enough to triumph over the blandishments of the evil inclination. The Gaon interprets this Chazal into the pasuk. The yetzer hora generates many evil thoughts within a person. He, it is, sakum, which is a mnemonic abbreviation for T- Torah, K-Krias Shma, UM (U'missah) remembering the day of death

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