In memory of Fruma bas Yisroel, whose yahrzeit is today.
Last week’s Talk was dedicated to Esther Safer, whose age I initially reported erroneously. She was 25 when she passed away unexpectedly from a seizure. May her memory be for a blessing.
You are driving on the highway at the speed limit. Someone zooms by and cuts in front of you. How do you react?
You see your neighbor, who you know has a violent temper, pinching his child on the ear so hard the child is crying. How do you react?
You notice someone in your office putting a load of office supplies into her purse. How do you react?
You are in the grocery store and down at the end of the aisle, you see your favorite rabbi take something off the shelf and put it into his pocket. How do you react?
The person closest to you, who you know loves you, is extremely gruff and unfriendly one day. How do you react?
Your beloved, who is often late, is late. How do you react?
One of the most difficult and important spiritual practices a person can undertake is to train yourself not to be judgmental.
The reason this is so important is because of the Jewish law of karma: what goes around, comes around. If you are judgmental, you will be judged.
If a person is known to be unethical in some way - like the neighbor with a violent temper - there is no mitzva to judge him favorably. You can assume that he has no good reason for hurting his child (I'm assuming that there might be a good reason to pinch a child on the ear on occasion - some will differ).
If a person has a reputation as an ethical person - like the rabbi (hopefully!) - then it is unethical to assume anything wrong. The ethical reaction is to make up a story in your mind that justifies what you are seeing: "He must have had to exchange an item and the store manager told him to take a new one."
Most people, however, are in the middle, and for these, you have a choice. You can assume the worst, or you can make up a story in your mind to assume the best.
Habitually giving the benefit of the doubt, aka “judging favorably” is an enlightened spiritual practice and requirement for enlightenment. It’s opposite, judging unfavorably, is base and, while sometimes cloaked in self-righteousness, akin to wallowing in the mud. Remind you of any barnyard animal in particular?
In order not to get the “swine” bug, try giving others the benefit of the doubt.
It makes for a very lively table talk to challenge people at your table to find ways to judge favorably in these scenarios.
PS - if you haven't seen our spring newsletter, please download the pdf here.