“Judges and officers shall you appoint in all your cities…and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment” (Devarim 16:18)
Our sages tell us that we should always judge others favorably (Avos 1:6). If you see someone doing something that seems like a sin, don’t immediately assume he’s guilty. It’s possible that closer scrutiny will reveal that he is, in fact, totally innocent of wrongdoing.
The Sfas Emes says that even if a thorough investigation indicates that he did sin, perhaps the sin is not as egregious as you think it is, or perhaps extenuating circumstances related to the individual’s physical or spiritual state hindered him or her from acting otherwise.
The Sfas Emes also points out that Chazal in Pirkei Avos actually instruct us to judge “kol ha’adam” favorably. These words are usually translated as “everyone,” but they can also mean “the whole person.” In other words, don’t judge the act in isolation. Consider the complete person, with all his good qualities, many of which you may not be aware. Furthermore, contemplate his vulnerability to the Evil Inclination as if you were in his shoes.
R’ Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev adds that we have the power to determine how we are judged in Heaven. When we are merciful and see each other in a favorable light, we impact Heaven and inspire the Divine Attribute of compassion and mercy. In the merit of us judging favorably, Hashem judges all of us with favor and grace. The Gemara (Megillah 12b) says, “It is with the measure that man measures others that he himself is measured.”
The Talmud states (Shabbos 151b) that anyone who has compassion on Hashem’s creations will receive compassion from Heaven. The Divrei Dovid explains Heavenly defenders say to Hashem, “Look at the compassion of this man of flesh and blood upon Your creations. How much more so should You, who is filled with compassion, have mercy on Your creations.”
The Torah in the above-quoted verse uses the words “mishpat tzedek – righteous judgment,” which is the root of the word tzedakah, implying that a person should be charitable, understanding, and compassionate when judging his brethren.
The Medrash Tanchuma cites R’ Yehuda ben R’ Shalom who says this verse adjures us to advocate merit for others before Hashem like Gidon ben Yo’ash (Shoftim 6). In his days, the Jewish nation was suffering and Hashem wanted someone to advocate for them – but no one did. When Gidon finally defended the Jewish people, an angel immediately revealed himself to him and said, “Go with this strength of yours [with the strength of the merit that you advocated for Hashem’s people] to save Israel.”
There are times when someone is predisposed to judge another person harshly because he harmed him in some way. Yet, he must make allowances for the possibility that he misunderstood or misconstrued the facts, or that the person was simply unable to do what he wanted. Advocating and judging favorably demonstrate ahavas Yisroel for one’s fellow man and requires eliminating a negative outlook or personal bias.
The long-time chavrusa of the great tzaddik R’ Aryeh Levin had passed away, and R’ Aryeh was escorting the body in the funeral procession. Suddenly, as it passed a flower store, R’ Aryeh left the procession and entered the store. When he came out, he was holding a large pot of flowers.
One of the other participants was curious why the great R’ Aryeh Levin had acted the way he did. A few days later, he approached R’ Aryeh and respectfully requested an explanation. R’ Aryeh appreciated his request, noting that the Torah (Bamidbar 32:22) requires us to be innocent in the eyes of Hashem and the Jewish people.
R’ Aryeh explained that earlier that day he had visited the leprosy hospital and learned that one of the patients had died. (R’ Aryeh devoted his entire life to caring for those in need, providing comfort to the brokenhearted and forlorn, to widows and orphans, and to prisoners. He ministered to the ill, even venturing into the hospital for lepers in Yerushalayim where few – even relatives of the sick – dared go.) Since the niftar had been a devout individual, and R’ Aryeh knew all his belongings would be burned to assure the disease was not spread, he asked if he could take his tefillin so they could be buried properly.
His request was denied, but R’ Aryeh was successful in getting them to agree to a compromise; they agreed to bury the tefillin – not burn them – if he brought them an earthenware vessel in which to bury them. Since time was of the essence, R’ Aryeh had seized the moment during the funeral of his chavrusa to run in and purchase an earthenware pot to bring back to the hospital and was baruch Hashem successful in assuring that the tefillin were properly buried.
Always judge others favorably and give them the benefit of the doubt. Even though you think you see the whole picture, chances are that you don’t.