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Burst of Inspiration

#13 – Judge Your Neighbor Righteously

Another mitzvas aseh that a person will often violate by speaking lashon hara is “בְצֶדֶק תִּשְׁפֹּט עֲמִיתֶך”. We are obligated from the Torah to judge our neighbors righteously. What does that mean? Explains the Gemara, if he’s a tzaddik, if he’s a person of high caliber and known of stellar reputation, even if the issue that I’m judging is leaning to the bad, it looks pretty guilty, I have a full obligation from the Torah to judge him to the favorable side. If he’s a beinoni, if he’s a regular person then only if it’s an equal possibility, it could be this, could be that, then I have a full obligation. But explains the Chafetz Chaim that even if he’s a beinoni and even if it’s noteh, even if it’s leaning to the bad, it’s still a good middah and a good idea to judge him favorably.

What the Chafetz Chaim is explaining to us is that it’s human nature for us to be very judgmental. I see someone do something, I heard about someone and it could be this way it could be that way. Come on, you know the way people are, come on, you know what really happened. And we have this very quick judgment about people. And what the Chafetz Chaim is explaining is we violate “בְצֶדֶק תִּשְׁפֹּט עֲמִיתֶך”. If he’s a beinoni, if he’s a regular person and he did x and it could be x is a violation of a Torah principle or not, I have a full obligation from the Torah to judge him favorably. Surely if he’s a talmid chacham, if he’s a person of great reputation even if it’s leaning towards the bad I have a full obligation to judge him favorably.

Now, the reason why this becomes such an issue is because many times if I judge him unfavorably and I had an obligation to keep it as an equal safek, to keep it as a question in my mind and I go speak lashon hara about him, so I double the sins involved. Number one, I violated “בְצֶדֶק תִּשְׁפֹּט עֲמִיתֶך”, I didn’t judge him favorably. Number two, I therefore then went and spoke lashon hara about him.

This is something that requires a lot of work, but when we see things, when we hear things, we’re obligated from the Torah to keep an open mind, not to be judgmental. Certainly if it’s a safek shakul, if it’s in the middle, we have to keep our minds open and certainly if he’s a person of very great reputation even if it’s leaning towards the bad. But in general we have to learn to keep in mind “בְצֶדֶק תִּשְׁפֹּט עֲמִיתֶך”, judging our neighbors with honesty and keeping it fair.

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