10 - Situations - And Judge Everyone Favorably

Instead of focusing on relatively minor flaws, concentrate on the more favorable and positive character traits. Judge a person not on the basis of an isolated act but in the context of his entire being.

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


Last week’s stretch of the week was:  Look for a way to help a friend.

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

Situations Lesson #10


And Judge Everyone Favorably

V’Hevay Dan Es Kol Ha’Adam L’Chaf Z’chus -
Part 3

Perek Aleph, Mishna Vav 

Story(based on a true story)

A few years ago, I had two kids in the same school coming home at the same time.  My daughter Suri was an incoming fourth grader, and little Chana was starting a full day of kindergarten.  The problem was that Suri’s afternoon carpool from the previous year had no room for Chana.  I didn’t want to pull Suri out of it because she was with her friends, and my alternative carpool was a bunch of pre-schoolers.  Plus, I’d need it for the next year when Suri got out later.  

So I made the strange decision that just for that year, I would have two 3:30 carpools.  I put Chana with the pre-schoolers and Suri with the fourth graders, and I would drive them on different days, and next year Suri’s would become a 4:30 and everything would be in place.  Most people I told about it thought I was a bit crazy until I explained.  And a couple weeks into school, it seemed to be working out nicely.  You cannot underestimate the effect of two girls who are happy with their carpools versus one or more who are miserable.

As I sat in my seat waiting for a school parents’ meeting to begin, I felt a tap on my shoulder.  Shaindy, who lived three blocks from me, gave me a warm hello.  She had been part of some of my early carpool negotiations for the preschoolers but had not ended up joining, so I asked her how things were going.

“I have to tell you,” she said, “this whole carpool arranging thing has been crazy.  While I was thinking of joining you guys, I happened to speak to Devora, who mentioned that her fourth grader was in your 3:30 carpool.  She then asked if I was sure you had invited me in, because the carpool was full, and had been since last year.  

I was pretty confused.  I knew you had invited me, and now couldn’t figure out why.  Plus, I’d just lost a carpool possibility.  But I didn’t want to call you while I was upset, especially since I know you and it doesn’t seem like something you would do, to be that disorganized or inconsiderate.  After some time, I was sure there had to be a good explanation.  I was just about to call you when Devora called me and told me that it turns out you have two 3:30 carpools.  It’s like one of those big dan l’chaf z’chus lessons you read about but doesn’t actually happen to you.  I am so glad I judged you favorably.”

Throughout this whole speech, all I could do was nod along in my shock.  I also have read those dan l’chaf z’chus stories, but I have never thought about what it felt like to be on the other side.  Shaindy could easily have called me in a huff, confronting me with misleading her and possibly leaving her with no carpool.  I could have had someone thinking negatively about me for who knows how long and not even known it, simply because I got creative with my carpools and did something nobody would think of.  Plus, while this was a small thing, if it had been communicated to others it might be enough to brand me as unreliable.  And who wants that?

Thankfully, Shaindy had the strength of character to stop herself and take the necessary time to be objective.  Even if she couldn’t come up with a possible explanation, she calmed herself and planned to clarify the facts as they were necessary for her, without accusing anyone of anything.  So there were no hurt feelings or lingering accusations that might sting even after the truth came out.  

But it made me wonder--how many people out there are judging me on something they only see the surface of?  And how many people am I judging on those grounds?  My neighbors?  My children?  How many times have I automatically assumed that the child who comes to me crying and complaining is the victim and the kid they complain about must have been wrong?  How many times have I denigrated practices I don’t understand?

How much negativity do we spread throughout our lives when it doesn’t need to be there?

Pirkay Avos:

"יהושע בן פרחיה ונתאי הארבלי קבלו מהם.  יהושע בן פרחיה אומר...והוי דן את כל האדם לכף זכות."

“Y’hoshua ben P’rachya v’Ni’tie Ha’arbayli kib’lu maihem.  Y’hoshua ben P’rachya omer, v’hevay dan es kol ha’adam l’chaf z’chus.”

“Y’hoshua ben P’rachya and Ni’tie of Arbel received from them.  Y’hoshua ben P’rachya says, “…And judge everyone favorably.” (Perek Aleph, Mishne Vav).

The Gemara (Shabbos 127b) relates that if we judge our peers favorably, HaShem, in turn, will judge us favorably.  This saying of Chazal, at first sight, seems difficult to understand.  While it is appropriate for mortals who do not possess complete information to judge a peer’s questionable behavior in the best possible light, how can we say this about HaShem Who is fully aware of every possible rationale and motive for our behavior?

This statement may refer to the merit one deserves for judging one’s peer favorably.  In the merit of displaying this difficult character trait of being dan l’chaf z’chus, HaShem will reciprocate by tilting the scales of justice in your favor.  According to this approach, this attribute of judging one’s peer favorably is appreciated by HaShem to such an extent that it alone can ensure a proper advantageous verdict.

The mishna not only requires us to judge everyone’s behavior favorably but also assists us in doing so.  והוי דן את כל האדם לכף זכות--Judge the entire person, kol ha’adam.  Although specific character traits of an individual may be flawed, his overall character can certainly be distinguished.  Instead of focusing on relatively minor flaws, concentrate on the more favorable and positive character traits.  Judge a person not on the basis of an isolated act but in the context of his entire being.  

(Reproduced from Rav Lau on Pirkei Avos and from Pirkei Avos with Ideas and Insights of the Sfas Emes and other Chassidic Masters, with permission of the copyright holders, ArtScroll / Mesorah Publications, Ltd.)

Discussion Question Options:

Why is it often so hard to be dan l’chaf z’chus?

What are some ways we can judge favorably even if we assume or know that the facts are true?

Why is judging favorably so powerful that it can tip our scales?  How can it affect society?

Stretch of the Week:

Before reacting, take the time and energy needed to see a possible other explanation for something you see.


Stretch Of The Week