Dvar Torah Kedoshim – Benefits of the Benefit of the Doubt

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    Kedoshim – Benefits of the Benefit of the Doubt:
    בצדק תשפט עמיתך – With righteousness shall you judge your fellow (Vayikra 19:15).
    Rashi explains that this means to give a person the benefit of the doubt. The obligation to give the benefit of the doubt is recorded in Pirkei Avos (1:6): “Ve’hevei dan es kol ha’adam le’chaf zechus – Judge everyone favorably.”
    The Gemara (Shabbos 127b) mentions an axiom that seems to be based on the concept of middah keneged middah: “Hadan chaveiro le’chaf zechus danin oso lizchus – One who judges his friend favorably will be judged favorably.” The Gemara then records several incidents where people were dan le’chaf zechus, where they judged favorably. At the conclusion of each event, the following blessing was given to the one who gave the benefit of the doubt: “Ke’sheim she’dantani lizchus haMakom yadin os’cha lizchus – Just as you judged me favorably, may Hashem judge you favorably.”
    But this statement brings along its own set of questions. If I see someone driving on Shabbos or eating non-kosher, I am obligated (in certain cases) to give the person the benefit of the doubt. I must assume that he has some medical condition that calls for eating the forbidden food, or that there is an emergency that requires him to drive to a nearby hospital.
    Since I judged him favorably, in return, Heaven will give me the benefit of the doubt. But this is a non sequitur! Hashem knows my motivation; He has no safeik why I did what I did, and any extenuating circumstances that permit this otherwise forbidden act are revealed to Him. It is only we, the imperfect humans, who are uncertain as to a person`s motivation and need to give the benefit of the doubt.
    If the statement of Chazal is to be taken seriously, as quid pro quo, what is meant by blessing someone that Hashem should judge him favorably?
    Before we answer this question, we have another question on the abovementioned Mishnah from Pirkei Avos, “Ve’hevei dan es kol ha’adam le’chaf zechus.” One would have expected the Mishnah to say, “kol adam,” which means “every man.” Why does it say kol ha’adam, whose literal meaning is “all the man”?
    The Sfas Emes explains that we are not only supposed to give the benefit of the doubt to the man and the questionable action that he did; we are also supposed to judge the entire person, kol ha’adam, which will lead us to be more favorably inclined toward him.
    I may be aware that there was no justification for the person’s action, since it was clearly an act of chillul Shabbos. However, the Mishnah is telling me to judge “all the man.” This means that I have to take into account all that brought him to where he is today – to the time he sinned. This includes his poor home-life and upbringing and the trauma he suffered as a child.
    This is not to excuse what he did, but to mitigate the severity of his actions: What do you expect, after all he went through? Of course, I know that he sinned and the act in and of itself is not permitted. Yet, all in all, given his particular circumstances, he was doing the best that he could.
    With this definition of dan le’chaf zechus, the quid pro quo of the Gemara in Shabbos takes on a new meaning. If I judge you le’chaf zechus, meaning that I look at the “whole you” and am therefore understanding, Hashem will, in turn, do the same for me.
    Not that there is any doubt as to whether the act was forbidden. I know that my friend sinned and Hashem certainly knows that I did. However, now Hashem will take into account all of my bad experiences – all of the circumstances that made me into a person who couldn’t control myself and gave into temptation.
    This tremendous chesed is available to us if we initiate it. If I go easy on you based on your whole story, then Hashem will do the same for me.
    In truth, we are constantly judging ourselves as we judge others, for Hashem arranges for a person to be in a situation where his conduct and very words can have far-reaching effects, the ultimate version of: “Whatever you say goes back to you.”
    The Baal Shem Tov, brought down in Pri Chaim on Pirkei Avos (2:5, 3:1), brings a famous event in Navi, where a person pronounced judgment against himself. When Nassan HaNavi gave tochachah to David HaMelech for taking another man’s wife (II Shmuel 12), Nassan presented David with a parable. There were two people, a wealthy man who had everything he wanted, and a poor man who had only one sheep. One day, a guest came to the wealthy man. The rich man was so miserly that he did not want to waste any of his own sheep for the guest, so he stole the poor man’s only sheep. Hearing this, David HaMelech became very angry and stated that the wealthy man deserves to die.
    Nassan HaNavi responded, “You are that man! Hashem gave you everything; he saved your life, gave you much wealth and many wives. And now you went and stole Bas-sheva, Uriah’s only wife.”
    This, writes the Baal Shem Tov, is how our fate can be sealed. Much like David who was informed of a crime mirroring his own, and ended up pronouncing his own fate, we will also see or hear of the misdeeds of another – which mirror our own – and reflexively remark what we think should be their fate. “That guy! What a chutzpah he has; he deserves a severe punishment for his actions.” And lo and behold, whatever we said does go back to us, and the judgment rendered against us is announced loud and clear by none other than ourselves. And based on this pronouncement, we are punished by Hashem.
    With this in mind, the Baal Shem Tov has a novel reading of the Mishnah in Avos (2:5): “Al tadin es chavercha ad she’tagia limkomo – Do not judge your fellow man until you find yourself in his situation,” which can also mean, “You will not judge someone until you are in his place.” In other words, if you find yourself in a situation where you are able to judge another, realize that you are in his place! Heaven does not show you another person’s action for judgment – until you yourself have arrived at his situation, because you have done the same kind of deed as your fellow man.
    And as you pass judgment, so will it happen to you.
    The Baal Shem writes that this is yet another reason to follow the dictum of: “Ve’hevei dan es kol ha’adam le’chaf zechus.”If I am shown your faults and can judge your conduct, I must have been in your place, and am worthy of the same or a similar penalty. By judging you favorably, in a good and kindly light, I am rendering a favorable judgment on myself, as well.
    We are the judge and jury at our own trials.

    Reb Eliezer

    The Torah is advising us how to avoid lashan hara. There is a juxtaposition between seeing good and lashan hara. If you judge him for the good, you will not gossip about him.

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