Two Judgment Days are coming. The first is Rosh Hashana. The second is the American presidential election. The two are linked, particularly for those who (unlike me) get to vote in the election, or even those who might talk or write about the candidates.
The connection is clear because our words and deeds are among the principal things for which we are judged on Rosh Hashana. But not just our words and deeds. Rambam (Maimonides) addresses this point directly in his discussion of teshuva, the process of repentance and return to righteous ways that is the fundamental practice of the coming religious season.
“Do not judge your fellow until you are in his place.”
The Talmud teaches, “Judge everyone favorably ... .” In other words, when we observe behavior that appears objectionable, we are to pause and contemplate the possibility that there may be circumstances of which we are unaware. If we judge based solely on what we see, we may draw the wrong conclusion. Unless we are privy to personal information, we should assume that others’ actions are appropriate and possibly even good. Our obligation is to give others the benefit of the doubt by judging them favorably.
“Judge every person favorably.”
– Pirkei Avot 1:6
“Seek the good in everyone, and reveal it, bring it forth.”
– Rabbi Nachman of Breslov
While these injunctions may have been uttered with the goal of providing guidance to individuals, they can form the basis of an excellent strategy in social justice work as well.
In the secular calendar, the holidays are “late” this year. In the calendar of the soul, it always feels as if the Days of Awe are coming surprisingly quickly. This year, with the month of September, we enter the month of Elul, the month of more intensified preparation leading up to Rosh HaShanah, also known as Yom HaDin, the Day of Judgment.
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- Rabbi Israel Salanter and the Mussar Movement, Etkes
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- The Path of the Just, Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (one volume)
- A Responsible Life, Ira F. Stone
- Duties of the Heart (one volume)
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ISRAEL TRIP: Join The Mussar Institute for 10 days in Israel through the lens of Mussar. The tour, led by Alan Morinis and Avi Fertig, will take place from Feb. 19 to Mar. 1, 2017. For more information or to register, click here.
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MUSSAR VIDEO BLOGS: TMI faculty member Chaim Safren delivers short weekly Mussar lessons on his video blog. Check out this recent talk entitled “Never Get Old.”
The Practice Corner
Whenever you look at another person, make an effort to see beyond the flawed, incomplete, earthy creature to perceive the radiant soul that is standing before your eyes. Recognizing that your essence is also a radiant soul, visualize the two bright lights shining as one, as two flames brought together become one flame. This perception does not come naturally; you must make an effort to remind yourself to perceive this spiritual reality, until this perspective takes root in your heart.
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