A young boy comes home from school one day and announces to his father: “Chaim pushed me so hard today.”
The father replies, “What did you do to him?”
“Nothing,” responds the boy.
“Do you mean that Chaim pushed you for no good reason? Did your teacher see him do it?”
Chaim answers, “Definitely! He did it right in front of the teacher!”
Intrigued, the father asks, “And he didn’t say anything to Chaim?”
“No. And all the other children watched, too.”
A now furious father looks up the teacher’s number and tries to hide the anger in his voice as he calls to complain about this terrible injustice. As the phone is ringing, the boy continues the story, “You should have seen how Chaim pushed me in the red wagon; I rolled all the way across the room!”
This story, told by Rabbi Hanoch Teller in Courtrooms of the Mind, captures the ease with which we jump to conclusions. At the same time, it also illustrates an effective strategy to overcome this urge to unfairly judge others.
The Mitzvah of judging favorably comes from Parshat Kedoshim. The Pasuk states (Vayikra 19:15), “With fairness shall you judge your people.” The Sefer HaChinuch (235) includes the imperative to judge favorably in this mitzvah.
How could the Torah require us to rise above our natural tendency to rush to judgment? When we judge a situation, we believe we know all of the details and can therefore come to an appropriate judgment. As Rabbi Teller illustrates through his story, however, we might be missing some of the details. Without these critical details, our conclusions are incomplete. If we inculcate in ourselves a sense of humility in realizing that we don’t necessarily know exactly what transpires in each situation, we then lose the temptation to rush to judge others.
Fittingly, this week’s second Parsha presents a prohibition of Lashon Hara (Vayikra 19:16). About two months ago, Rabbi Teller addressed the student body at TABC to introduce our Lashon Hara Awareness Program, which was dedicated in memory of Rabbi Shelley Miller. Rabbi Teller pointed out that the best way to avoid Lashon Hara is by judging others favorably. If we would simply allow ourselves to believe that there could be “more to the story,” we would avoid the prohibition of speaking Lashon Hara about our friends.
One Mitzvah brings another. By judging others favorably, may we also merit greater success in the area of Shemirat HaLashon!