“Judging Others Favorably and its Impact on Our Own Judgment”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

This coming Shabbat is known in the Jewish calendar as Shabbat Shuva–the Sabbath of Return. It is the Shabbat that is observed during Aseret Y’may Teshuvah, the Ten Days of Repentance, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. On this Shabbat, parashat Haazinu is read, which continues the message of Moses to the people of Israel preceding his death.

Parashat Haazinu contains some of the most glorious Biblical poetry and some of the most exalted theological and philosophical concepts. Our rabbis declare that the fundamental beliefs concerning the World to Come are to be found in parashat Haazinu.

In Tractate Taanit 11a, the rabbis assert that Haazinu is the source for the concept of Divine accountability in both this world and the next. The verse they point to, Deuteronomy 32:4, is the verse in which Moses describes G-d: “Ha’tzur tah’mim pah’aw’lo kee chol d’rah’chav mish’paht, kayl eh’moo’nah v’ayn ah’vel, tzaddik v’yah’shar hoo.” The rock! Perfect is His work, for all His paths are justice; a G-d of faith without iniquity, righteous and fair is He.

The words, “A G-d of faith,” say the rabbis, teach us that G-d exacts punishment from the wicked in the World to Come even for the slightest transgression, and exacts punishment from the righteous in this world for any transgression which they commit. Furthermore, say the rabbis, the words “without iniquity,” teach that just as the righteous will receive their reward in the World to Come even for the least meritorious act that they do, so too are the wicked rewarded in this world even for the least meritorious act that they do.

The rabbis then proceed to analyze the words,”Righteous and fair is He,” and say: When a person departs to his eternal home, all his deeds are enumerated before him and he is told: Such and such a thing have you done, in such and such a place, on that particular day. The person being judged then replies, “Yes.” They then say to him, “Sign!” And he signs, as it is said, “He seals up the hand of every man” (Job 37:7). And what is even more, the person then acknowledges the justice of the verdict and says, “You have judged me well,” in order that the words of the Scripture (Psalms 60:6) may be fulfilled, “That You may be justified when You speak.”

It appears to be rather fortuitous that the Torah portion that is read during the Ten Days of Repentance speaks of Divine accountability. How appropriate this message is, at a time that all of G-d’s flocks pass under the rod, as the Shepherd judges. At this time, as the Al-mighty decides who will live and who will die, we are fearful and apprehensive.

And yet, there is a vital message for all to bear in mind at this critical time in the Hebrew calendar. In tractate Megillah 12b, our rabbis teach that “a person is measured in the way he measures.” This implies that a person is judged in the same way that he judges others. The Mishnah in Avot 1:6 (Ethics of our Fathers) quotes Rabbi Joshua the son of Perahyah who used to say, “Find yourself a rabbi, acquire a friend, and judge all people favorably.”

It is not at all a coincidence that the Torah portion during the Ten Days of Penitence places so much emphasis on our relationships with our fellow human beings. Rather than focusing solely on our relationship with the Al-mighty, as important as that is at this time, the Torah speaks of inter-human relationships. Late in the year 1776, Thomas Paine wrote the immortal words: “These are the times that try men’s souls.” He might have easily been referring to the Ten Days of Penitence, because the way that we judge (try) other people’s souls is the way that our own souls will be tried by Al-mighty G-d.

Another brilliant insight into the human condition is reflected in the words of Rabbi Hillel, cited in Avot 2:4 (Ethics of our Fathers): He used to say, “Do not judge your fellow being until you are in his position.” We want the Al-mighty to factor in all the possible benefits when He judges us. We need G-d to bend over backwards and perhaps do somersaults in order to dismiss our improper behavior and hope that we will find favor in His eyes when He judges us.

That is exactly what we must do with others. In our relations with our fellow human beings, we need to jump over hoops and do somersaults and bend over backwards in order to give all those who have aggrieved us the benefit of the doubt. And this, despite the fact that, at least on the surface, they do not seem to merit our kindness and generosity. But then again, neither do we!

We pray that G-d will look down from His heavenly abode and judge us all favorably for a happy, peaceful and healthy New Year 5765.

Shanah Tovah.

May you be blessed.