10 - Judge Your Fellow with Righteousness part 1

The requirement to give the benefit of the doubt is not a blanket statement, applicable equally for all people and in all situations.

We are stretching in ahavas yisrael together to create z’chusim for K’lal Yisrael in these urgent times.


Last week’s stretch of the week was: Think about a problem or issue you would like to help correct and make one phone call about it this week.

Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.

 Taking A Deeper Look - Lesson #10


PART 1 - Who did it?


The requirement to give the benefit of the doubt is not a blanket statement, applicable equally for all people and in all situations. The halacha will differ depending on who is doing the act we have observed, a tzaddik, a rasha, or someone in between, and to what extent the act appears to lean in the direction of z’chus or chovah, innocent or guilty. This is not showing “favoritism”; rather, it is “judging with righteousness”, according to the way the person has proven that he conducts himself in general.

Tzadik: On your way to shul one morning, you notice your neighbor, a fine talmid chacham and tzaddik, looking around furtively and then pulling out a different neighbor’s newspaper form his mailbox and walking off with it, rather suspicious, by all accounts. The judgmental gears start turning, but you stop them in their tracks. Your neighbor falls into the halachic category of tzaddik. For such a person, the halacha tells us: Even if you saw him clearly doing an aveira at night, do not harbor any doubts about him the next day, because he will certainly have done teshuva by then. What if the act was not clearly an aveira, but it leans strongly in that direction? As long as there may be some far-fetched explanation for what you observed, perhaps he was forced to act in that way, or had positive intentions you are not aware of, then, even if the possibility is rather remote, you are obligated to judge the tzaddik favorably. (Mishpetei Hashalom 1:70)

Rasha: A person who is a notorious rasha, or whose deeds are more often bad than good,or someone who has shown himself to be totally devoid of yiras Shawmayim, is to be judged according to the model he himself has created: Even if you see him doing something that appears to be a good deed, if there is any possibility that his intentions are really malicious then you should judge him negatively and assume that either he was really doing something negative, or that his deed was done only to garner honor and he didn’t really mean well.

Mr. Average: Most people do not fall into either of these categories. They may not be exemplary tzaddikim, but on the other hand, they certainly do not qualify as notorious resha’im. The average person who tries to avoid aveiros but at times slips up is to be judged in accordance with the following guidelines: If the action in question leans toward a positive interpretation, or if both sides seem to be equal, the Torah obligates us to judge the person favorably and give him the benefit of the doubt. If the action seems more likely to be negative, but not definitely so, we ought to suspend judgment and leave the matter in doubt rather than judge the person negatively. However, middas chassidus (a worthy approach) would be to judge him favorably even in such a case. (Mishpetei Hashalom 1:11)

Stranger: The rules above would apply in regard to someone you know. But what if you see someone you never met before doing a questionable act? If you do not know the person, and the nature of the deed is unclear, then min haTorah there is no obligation to judge him favorably. Here too, however, midas chassidus would urge you to judge him favorably. Nevertheless, the Torah allows us to protect our legitimate interests. At times, when dealing with a stranger there is a risk of damage or monetary loss if we are too trusting of his actions. In such cases, Chazal advise, “Respect him and suspect him”, treat the person cordially, but exercise caution. Even so, a person should not give verbal expression to his suspicions; he should keep them to himself. 

(Excerpts from The Code of Jewish Conduct by Rabbi Yitzchok Silver)

Story:  (based on a true story) 

One day I treated myself to an enjoyable trip to the museum with a group of friends. When we entered a special exhibit area a sign was displayed that read, “No eating allowed.” Of course normally I would obey the rules; however being in my first trimester, I had started feeling lightheaded and knew that I needed to eat something before I passed out. Not wanting to make a scene, I politely excused myself from the center of the room and walked to the corner to eat a granola bar I saved in my purse for circumstances such as this. Not a minute after I started eating did an older woman approach me with a glaring stare and asked, “Didn’t you see the sign that you aren’t allowed to eat in the museum?” I felt like returning her judgmental stare and giving her an earful about thinking before she spoke. Fortunately, in an instant I was able to gather my strength (and dignity) and said “Yes, I did but I’m eating for medical reasons.” She turned up her nose and walked away without saying a word. Although initially I felt like crying, I tried to pause before I spoke. I contemplated that maybe my reaction was because of my hormonal body or maybe my sensitive nature. How could she judge me as if I was some criminal for doing what I needed to do? Was she so perfect in all situations that she never saw a reason to bend a rule under certain circumstances? Yes, ideally I should have left the museum and eaten outside, but I was too dizzy to think about that option. It gave me a real appreciation for judging people favorably. Critical by nature, I’d often feel that others would try to wiggle their way out of situations by making excuses in order to avoid accountability. This provided me a real example for defending the victim of a circumstance. I now honor this experience and appreciate the lesson it furnished by remembering that if I truly felt the pain of being misjudged, others may as well.

Discussion Question Options: 

What is our fear of judging others favorably?

Does HaShem want us to be naïve in our relationships?

If you ever have not been judged favorably, what were the main feelings you had?

Stretch of the Week: 

This week focus on seeing others with a good eye by assuming that they’re “doing the best they can with what they’ve got.”


Stretch Of The Week