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"Judge Not Lest Ye be Judged!"

05/08/2019 02:36:29 PM


Rabbi Reuben Israel Abraham, CDR, CDR, USN (ret)

In this week's parashah, Parashat Kedoshim, we read the following: "You shall not commit a perversion of justice; you shall not favor the poor and you shall not honor the great; with righteousness shall you judge your fellow."  (VaYikra/Leviticus 19:15)  We learn from this verse that a judge must measure those standing before him/her with the "yardstick of justice" (i.e.- in strict accordance with halakhah [Jewish Law]).  However, our Sages also interpreted this verse to mean that we must judge each person favorably, meaning that, if at all possible, we must find some justification for his/her actions.  There appears to be a contradiction between the two interpretations.  Just what is going on here?  I offer the following vignette:

"The score was 8 to 0, and the other team showed no signs of improving their performance.  Reuven was playing a pick-up game of pool volleyball at camp against some teenagers.  They were playing rather poorly, and Reuven was a bit surprised.  After all, these boys had been in the pool for a while practicing.  All they had to do was get the ball over the net, but they could not seem to do that at all. Reuven's team scored three more points making the score 11 to 0.  As the game would end when the one of the teams would score 22 points, both teams switched sides in the pool.  Reuven's team took up its position, and play resumed.  In a short while, the other team had caught up with Reuven's team.   And no matter how hard Reuven's team tried, they could not get the ball over the net.  Until Reuven's team switched sides, Reuven had no idea that the other side of the pool was the deep end.  In the shallow end of the pool, it was easy to play the game.  But it was much harder to do so in the deep end.  Eventually, the opposing team won the game.

It is at this time of the year that we read a chapter of Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) every Shabbat afternoon.  In Pirkei Avot we read "Do not judge your fellow until you have reached his place."  All-too-often, we judge other peoples' actions based upon the position in which we are located.  And that is wrong.  Why?  Because our position is only ours; no one else can occupy it.  And that is true of everybody.  When someone's actions seem strange or even wrong to us, we must realize that this is probably so because we are missing some vital information that makes all the difference in the world.  To judge others favorably is not merely doing something kind.  To judge others favorably helps us to seek out the truth about them.  This skill is not only crucial to the judge in the courtroom; it is also vital in maintaining our relationships with others.  Shabbat Shalom!

Sun, September 15 2019 15 Elul 5779