Devarim/Deuteronomy 7:12 – 11:25
In this week’s Torah portion, Moshe continues his address to the people, explaining that prosperity and good health are promised in response to obedience to the mitzvot (commandments) God has given. He reminds us to look at our history and to know that we can and should trust in God. However, our blessings of health and material provision must never distract us from the realization that God is the author and source of all good gifts. Cultivating an attitude of gratitude for even the smallest blessing is a desirable trait and to be encouraged. Teaching young children to be thankful for everything they receive is important to their development into spiritually mature adults.
Moshe warns against idolatry (the belief that anything other than God has power) and against self-righteousness (“Do not say because of my virtue that God brought me to occupy this land … but because of the wickedness of these nations that God is driving them out before you.”) He then details our rebellions against God during the 40 years in the desert and the giving of the Second Tablets of the Torah.
This week’s portion dispels a common misconception. People think that “Man does not live by bread alone” means that a person needs additional foods beyond bread to survive. The quotation in its entirety says something different:
“Man does not live by bread alone, but by all that comes out of God’s mouth.” (Deut. 8:3)
The Torah then answers a question which every human being has asked of himself:
“What does God want of you? Only that you remain in awe of God your Lord, so that you will follow all His paths and love Him, serving God your Lord with all your heart and with all your soul. You must keep God’s commandments and decrees … so that all good will be yours.” (Deut. 10:12)
We also learn from this week’s reading that whenever we experience or hear about the negative behavior of another person, we must “judge favorably.” In simple terms, that means giving the benefit of the doubt. But, we might ask, how can one perform that mitzvah when so often it seems that the other person’s guilt is blatantly obvious?
Sometimes we jump to the wrong conclusion because the facts are different from what we perceive them to be. Or, even if our observations are accurate, we often misinterpret the intent behind them. When we drop the assumption that there was a negative intention behind someone’s actions towards us, we are more easily capable of ‘judging favorably’ and we save ourselves from the sin of judgmentalism.
Here are six possible ways to analyze a situation and jump to a good conclusion (“judge favorably”):
1) Are you sure it happened at all? Be careful to ascertain that what you heard actually happened the way you heard it!
2) Are you sure the details are correct? One small detail can completely change the situation. Perhaps something was exaggerated? Or omitted?
3) Do you know if the other person intended to harm you – or someone else? Often the consequences of our actions are unforeseen.
4) Do you actually know the assumptions or information the other person was operating under? Maybe he or she acted under a misconception that would explain their behavior.
5) Could the other person’s act have been the result of an innocent, human error? Everyone has limitations. Perhaps this person lacked experience, was forgetful, distracted or simply didn’t think carefully enough before acting.
6) Do you know what have preceded the event? Or whether the other person may be enduring a great deal of pain, frustration or stress. This might be a response to a specific situation, like an illness or financial loss.
When other people respond to something you have said or done, would you not welcome their consideration of these six points before condemning or judging you negatively? Have we not all at some time suffered the pain of being misunderstood or misjudged?
It behooves each of us to cultivate the habit of thinking the best of each other, of judging favorably another’s behavior and disciplining our tendency to jump to conclusions, knowing that in reality most impulsive judgments are incorrect.
This is no way implies that we are to tolerate physical, verbal or emotional abuse from other people – not at all. What id does require of us is that we learn to deal with unacceptable behavior while at the same time learning to maintain an attitude of compassion toward the offender.
In Tune with Torah this week = ask yourself, “Am I quick to judge others in a negative light?” If so, recognize first of all that this is against God’s instructions and secondly, that when we judge others negatively, we reap the same in return.
As we approach the beginning of the month of Elul, the month dedicated to repentance leading up to Rosh Hashana, this Shabbat is a great time to address this issue within our own souls and dedicate ourselves to seeing the best in one another and learning to withhold judgment for all the reasons listed above.