May 27, 2024
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Strengthening Relationships by Judging Others Favorably

Rebbetzen Sima Spetner, a world-renowned expert in raising children, often tells the following story:There was a 3-year-old girl sitting on the floor, busy coloring a piece of paper with crayons. The mother walked into the room and saw crayon coloring…on the floor. She gently told her daughter, “Crayons are for paper, not the floor.” The mother cleaned up, returned 15 minutes later and to her dismay, saw more crayon marks on the floor. She told her daughter, “Mommy said we don’t color on the floor. Next time you color on the floor, Mommy will have to take away the crayons.” A while later, the mother came and saw the same thing. She was upset. The little girl said, “But I didn’t color on the floor, Mommy!” “We must only tell the truth, so now I have to take away your crayons,” said the mother. That evening, the mother picked up her daughter’s shoes and discovered there was a crayon lodged in the pattern of a shoe’s sole! Suddenly, it was clear: The crayon marks on the floor were inadvertently made by the shoes and not by her daughter’s coloring.

Rebbetzen Spetner uses this story to illustrate that one should initially give a child the benefit of the doubt.

In Parshas Kedoshim, there is a mitzvah, “B’tzedek tishpot amisecha”—”With righteousness you shall judge your friend.” The Gemara explains that this pasuk is teaching the mitzvah to judge people favorably. Even if it seems someone did something wrong, we must give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he did something wrong, but it’s best to assume it was unintentional or he didn’t realize the sensitivity of the issue.

The Mishnah in Pirkei Avos quotes the teaching of Reb Yehoshua ben Perachia who taught this mitzvah within a group of three teachings: “Make for yourself a Rebbe, acquire for yourself a friend and judge each person favorably.” The Maharal says that when a mishna lists a group of teachings, it indicates they are linked. Reb Chaim Volozhin explains the connection between these teachings: If someone is not careful to judge people favorably, then he will likely ruin his relationship with his Rebbe and with his friends.

I know a great rabbi who devoted many years to helping a student with a particular issue. During one phone conversation, the Rebbe pointed out something the student was doing incorrectly and told him he needed to fix it. The student disagreed, got upset and started to yell at his Rebbe! More shockingly, the student hung up the phone on him. A few years have passed since then, and the student has not called his Rebbe. This is a prime example of when a person does not judge his Rebbe favorably, he may lose his relationship with his Rebbe. The same applies to spouses and friends.

Rabbi Yechezkel Norman gave me advice when I was a chosson. “Anytime you start to get upset about something your wife did or said, stop and realize that your wife loves you and you are the most important person in the world to her. She definitely didn’t do something to intentionally hurt you.” This habit of judging others favorably is definitely worth developing and will dramatically improve all of our interpersonal relationships.

The Gemara relates a story of a person who went to work for a wealthy individual. He worked for him for three years. The day before Yom Kippur, he requested his salary for the three-year period so he could go home and provide for his family. The boss responded, “I don’t have any cash.” “Perhaps you have produce or cattle you can pay me with?” suggested the worker. “I apologize, but I don’t have any.” replied the boss. “Perhaps you have property, furniture or clothing?” Every item he mentioned, his boss told him he had none. The worker left home empty-handed to face his family, with nothing to show for his three years of work.

After Sukkos, the worker received a knock on his door. The boss presented him with full payment …and a bonus…for his three years of labor. The boss asked the employee, “Tell me, when you asked for payment and I replied I didn’t have any cash, what did you think?” The employee responded he thought the cash was tied up with a business deal. “That’s exactly what happened,” replied the boss. “When you asked me for property and I responded I didn’t have, what did you think?” “I thought perhaps all your properties were given out to sharecroppers.” And for each item the employer mentioned, the employee came up with some explanation of why it might not have been available. The boss replied that in all cases he was correct!

Sometimes we are very hasty to jump to conclusions. Sources say that the employee in this story was actually Rebbe Akiva. It’s fitting indeed to work on the mitzvah of judging others favorably during Sefiras Haomer, a time of spiritual preparation for receiving and fully accepting the Torah on Shavuos.


Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected]. For more info about PTI and its Torah classes, visit www.pti.shulcloud.com

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