The Laws #9

Judge Your Neighbor Favorably

“בצדק תשפט עמיתך”, judge your neighbor favorably. The Chafetz Chaim explains that there is a full commandment in the Torah to judge a Jewish person favorably. But he explains there are conditions to that. Let’s imagine my friend is a regular sort of person and he did something that could be either bad or not bad. But it could be either way, and I really can’t tell. That is when the Torah obligates me to judge him favorably. And if in that case I judge him negatively I violated that asei, I violated that positive commandment.

If in fact he’s a regular person and he did something that really kind of looks bad, in that case I don’t have the full mitzvas asei. It’s a good idea for me to judge him favorably, but if I don’t judge him favorably I didn’t violate that asei.

If however the person I’m referring to was known to be a very righteous person. Maybe he was a rav in the community, a person of very high standard and status, in that case I’m obligated to judge him favorably even if it’s leaning towards the negative. If he’s a beinoni, a regular person, I’m only obligated if it’s dead-set in the middle. If he’s a higher caliber person then even if it’s leaning towards the negative I’m obligated from the Torah to judge him favorably.

But in either case, if I didn’t judge him favorably and I decided that Reuven did something wrong and I told you, almost automatically I violated two separate issues. Number one, “בצדק תשפט עמיתך”, judge your neighbor favorably. But number two, because I misjudged him I now tell you negative information about him. Now I feel it’s justified, because based on my judgment of him maybe it’s justified to tell over that story. And there are situations where it is justified. But if I judged incorrectly and really he should have been judged favorably and yet I judged him negatively and I told you over that event, then I doubled the issue. First of all I violated “בצדק תשפט עמיתך” and number two I coupled that with the issur of lashon hara because I now told over that information to you.

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