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Judging Others Favorably: Three Exceptional Stories

Published on Monday February 8th, 2021

Hashem gave us the Torah and the mitzvot so we could purify ourselves. The goal of this priceless gift is to enable us to improve and refine ourselves.

Rabbi Israel Salanter used to say that it is easier to go over the Talmud seven times than to change one single trait of character.

Torah study which does not go hand in hand with an effort to improve middot (traits of character) is comparable to a nose ring on a pig’s snout.

Hessed isn’t only practised by giving out money and handouts. Sometimes, it is embarrassing to receive from others, because it makes us feel indebted to our benefactors. So, when we give to others, let’s try to spare them embarrassment.

Here is a story that best illustrates this:

As Shabbat approached, a man found himself in the deep of the forest, lost and wondering where he would spend Shabbat. Suddenly, he noticed a house at a distance. As he approached it, he was pleasantly surprised to notice a mezuzah posted on the door. He knocked and asked the owner whether he would be kind enough to host him for Shabbat. Surprisingly, the man began questioning him awkwardly: “So, you will be partaking the three Shabbat meals with us? And when will you be leaving?” And he even demanded a considerable sum of money in exchange for the room he gave him for the night.

The lost man understood that if he wished to spend Shabbat with this “host”, he would have to help prepare the meals and dish out the sum of money on demand.

Needless to say, after spending such an exorbitant sum, the guest was not the slightest embarrassed to eat to his heart’s content, taking second and third servings of the varied dishes on offer.

As he began to take leave of his host on Motzei Shabbat, the latter told him that he was accustomed to giving his guests a gift, so they would remember him and he handed him an envelope.

At first, the guest refused to take it, telling his host that he did not need a reminder. How could he forget such a memorable host? But he finally agreed, and after opening the envelope, he realized it contained the exact sum of money he had given his host in exchange for accommodations and meals!

“Why did he reimburse the money I gave him?”, he wondered.

The host replied that he had a single purpose in mind: making him feel comfortable. Had the host not paid, would he have dared eat to his heart’s content? Wouldn’t he have felt embarrassed to be the recipient of such kindness while giving nothing in return? Paying his dues gave the guest the impression he did not owe any favours to his host and thus, he could fully enjoy all that his host offered.

And now, here are two stories to stress the importance of judging others favourably:

1. At a wedding celebration, the Ktav Sofer announced to the guests that he had a surprise: he showed them a Machatsit Hashekel, dating back to the second Beit Hamikdash period. And he passed the coin around the guests in the wedding hall so everyone could take a closer look. But when he was ready to take the coin back, the latter had disappeared. And since no guest volunteered to return the coin, it was decided as a last recourse to assign each one of the guests to check another invitee’s pockets and discover whether it had been stolen.

However, before beginning the search, a Rabbi stood up and asked the guests to wait for another quarter of an hour. When time was up, the coin still hadn’t reappeared.

The same Rav made an additional request for delaying the search. After a few minutes, one of the waiters appeared in the hall, holding the coveted coin. It had been mistakenly cleared and thus would not have been found in any of the guests’ pockets. This is the reason, the coin had not returned to its owner.

But most surprisingly, the Rabbi who had asked to delay the search drew an identical coin from his pocket...Exactly like the one owned by the Ktav Sofer!

In fact, the Rabbi had also brought a Machatsit Hashekel from the Second Beit Hamikdash era. But, unwilling to spoil the Ktav’s Sofer’s joy at showing the guests this rare and precious coin, he kept it in his pocket.

If his pockets had been searched and the coin had been found, who would have believed it was his and not the Ktav Sofer?

2. An elegant wedding was celebrated in Jerusalem. Guests knew the groom’s family, who were famous for being needy and for frequently requesting financial help from the community. Thus, they were very surprised to witness the luxury that was expended in their son’s nuptial celebration.

When the Sheva Berachot were celebrated, one hundred people flocked the gates of the hotel (where the wedding had been celebrated). Some guests began to gossip against this family, who often requested charity but, who incurred in such exorbitant expenses to marry off their son.

When the community Rabbi got wind of these rumours, he felt the obligation to reveal the truth to these people:

Sometime before the wedding, the groom’s father searched for a hall to carry out the wedding. He had no clue what renting wedding halls and all the trimmings of organizing weddings amounted to. So, he went into the first hotel that he noticed (where the wedding was held).

When he inquired about prices, the hall representative burst into tears after discovering the man’s identity.

After gathering herself, she explained her reaction to the puzzled man who did not understand the reason for her tears: “Your father helped us escape from Germany during the Second World War, which is the reason why we are here today.

I insist that your son’s wedding is celebrated in this hotel on my tab”.

This is how people who were quite destitute could afford a luxurious wedding for their son.

Giving is an art, not just a reaction to requests; sometimes it is necessary to imagine a strategy to allow the recipient to receive gracefully. Thus, we may show a person that we are aware of his need and of our wish to help him.

Judging someone favourably is the expression of deep love: we WANT to see him happy and empowered. We are not seeking to aggrandize ourselves on his account.

Torah and Mitzvot observance is important and critical. But it is not sufficient. We have to strive to be better than that and be positively transformed in the process.

We are not required to spread a “religion” but to fulfil what Hashem wants from us: listen to his word and make continuous progress in all areas, and particularly in loving our neighbour.

The First Beit Hamikdash was replaced after 70 years, although it was destroyed due to very serious sins: adultery, idolatry and murder.

At the time of the Second Beit Hamikdash however, people studied Torah and observed mitzvot. But they didn’t love each other. They failed to pray for their brother’s success. Quite the contrary, they rejoiced when their brother failed. They strove to receive and not to give. They had joined the Society of Human Rights, while the Torah teaches us to be dutiful towards human beings.

According to the Vilna Gaon, there was an additional difference between the First and Second Temple periods:

During the First Temple period, people admitted their faults and thus, strived to repair them. But during the Second Temple Period, faults were invisible in the eyes of sinners, as they always found an alibi to justify them. Such a state of affairs was not conducive to Teshuva.

We must repair the sins that lead to the destruction of the Second Temple. This is a difficult and soul-searching endeavour that we must apply ourselves to every day.

Masters of Kabbala explain that the doors of the song are next door neighbours to the doors of Teshuva.

Teshuva demands to become aware of many grey areas that call for improvement. It must be done in joy and without guilt feelings.

During the night prayer, Arvit, we ask Hashem to remove the Satan standing behind us and the Satan standing before us.

The Satan behind us fills us with guilt each time we commit a fault, thus immobilizing us and blocking our development.

He must be dissuaded with joy in the realisation that we are not perfect, that there are many areas that call for improvement and provide opportunities to grow.

We must decide to stop being the children of our past and become the parents of our future!

The Torah-Box Team - © Torah-Box Account

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