The Pasuk in Parashat Kedoshim (19:15) states “BeTzedeck Tishpot Amitecha,” “With righteousness you shall judge your neighbor.” Rashi comments, quoting Torat Kohanim, that this Pasuk teaches that one should judge everybody favorably.
The Baal Shem Tov quotes the story of David’s sin with Bat-Sheva in order to understand this Pasuk on a deeper level. In Shmuel Bet, when Natan HaNavi comes to rebuke David HaMelech for approaching Bat-Sheva, he first asks David to pass judgment in an interesting case. In this fabricated case, a rich man had many sheep, and a poor man had only one sheep which was more or less a member of the family. One day, a guest arrived at the rich man’s house; the rich man took the poor man’s one sheep, and slaughtered it for his guest. David responds that the rich man should be put to death. Natan then replies to David that the story is a Mashal (parable), and that David himself is the rich man in the story. Natan’s rebuke inspires David to perform Teshuva immediately, and he is eventually forgiven.
Our sages teach that the way in which Natan approached David in Sefer Shmuel is in fact the same way that man is judged by Hashem when he reaches Heaven. The “video screen” is put up and Hashem’s “movie” depicts the sin that man committed. However, there is a twist. The depiction of the sin that the man committed is not taken from the life of the man who presently stands trial, but rather from somebody else’s life. In other words, Hashem shows the one who stands trial for a sin another man committing the same sin that he did, asking the perpetrator to pass judgment on the other man, similar to Natan’s approach with David. Therefore, when the perpetrator passes judgment on the other man, he is, in essence, judging himself.
Later in Kedoshim (19:17), the Torah states “Hocheiach Tochiyach Et Amitecha,” “You shall surely rebuke your neighbor.” The question can be asked: how are we supposed to rebuke our neighbors? The Iturei Torah quotes a story to shed some light on this matter. Rav Aharon Lev from Parmishlan saw that a man had transgressed. He said to the man: “It says in Tehillim (51:1-2) ‘LaMinatzseiach Mizmor LeDavid. BeVo Eilav Natan HaNavi Kaasher Ba El Bat-Sheva,’ ‘When Natan the prophet came unto him, after he had gone in to Bat-Sheva.’ What do these words come to teach us? If Natan would have come like a harsh Judge to censure David publicly, David might have dismissed the rebuke, defended himself, and wouldn’t have listened to him. However, when Natan rebuked David privately and in a patient manner, as David acted with Bat-Sheva, David took the rebuke to heart and did Teshuva.” After realizing that Rav Aharon Lev’s subtle rebuke was directed at him, the man who had transgressed quickly did Teshuva.
There is a common theme running through both Pesukim regarding how we must act towards our fellow man. If a friend commits an Aveira, we should not be so quick to judge him. After all, we may have done exactly the same thing ourselves, in which case judging him would be just judging ourselves. If, instead of criticizing our fellow man, we would be Dan LeKaf Zechut, judge favorably, we would in fact be judging our own sins favorably in the process! Inevitably, however, there will come a time when we will be faced with the challenge of rebuking our friends. In that scenario, we must take the message of Natan and Rav Aharon Lev to heart on how we rebuke, treating our friends as we would like to be treated.