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Counting the Omer with

Day 38 — Judging Others Favorably

Machri’o L’Chaf Zechut • מכריעו לכף זכות

By Rabbi Rachel Greengrass, Miami, FL

Tzippy Marks-Barnett, Long Beach, California, wove 38 different colors of thread into her beautiful needlepoint. Color is a gift from God.a
Tzippy Marks-Barnett, Long Beach, CA, wove 38 different colors of thread into her beautiful needlepoint. Color is a gift from God.

For better or worse, we are constantly judging others based on what we see and hear, and often our verdicts are condemning. Three thousand years ago, the Torah taught that our attitudes (and subsequently our behaviors) are formed not by what the other person said or did, but rather by our interpretation of what the other person said or did. Therefore, the Torah obligates us, whenever possible, to find or formulate a favorable interpretation of what we perceive.

“Judge your fellowman with righteousness (Lev. 19:15)” commands the Torah. What does this mean? That when we are cut off in traffic, instead of thinking — what a self-absorbed terrible driver — we would do better to assume that there was a good reason for their behavior.

One strategy mussar teaches to strengthen our ability to judge others favorably is to imagine what mitigating circumstances would account for a person’s seemingly improper behavior. For example, perhaps the man cut you off because he was rushing to the hospital where his wife is giving birth, or where his child is being rushed into surgery.

Since we have no way of knowing what the real story is behind the person’s actions, the story we make up to judge her favorably is as likely to be true as the condemning version. You don’t have to be highly creative to imagine a story that puts someone else in a good light. You just have to want to do the mitzvah of judging others favorably. Perhaps you will find, as I have, that practicing this middah gives you more patience, helps reduce anger, increases kindness and reminds us that humanity, and all of God’s creation, is basically good.

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