By Rabbi Thomas Louchheim

Judging Differently

By Rabbi Thomas Louchheim

Saturday, April 20, 2013

28th Torah portion, 5th in Leviticus

Acharei Mot-K’doshim 16:1-20:27 (124 verses)

25th Day of the Counting of the Omer (Endurance in Endurance)

Synopsis:

Acharei Mot outlines a complicated sacrificial service performed by the High Priest on behalf of the community, with the people as passive spectators. At the end of the chapter they are commanded to fast and abstain from work on the sacred day of Yom Kippur.

Kedoshim tells about living a life of holiness. The moral laws of this chapter are not an attempt to have society conform to particular practices. They call for just, humane, and sensitive treatment of others: The aged, the handicapped, and the poor are to receive consideration and courtesy. The laborer is to be promptly paid. The stranger is to be accorded the same acceptance we give to our fellow citizens.

Commentary (based on my reading of Joseph Telushkin’s “The Ignored Commandment” found in his, A Code of Jewish Ethics: Volume 1):

The injunction “In justice shall you judge your fellow man” (Leviticus 19:15) requires judges to be scrupulously fair. According to Telushkin’s analysis this law applies to everyone. Our tendency is to rush to a negative opinion of others and at the same time have a high regard of our own character. One reason for this is that we tend to judge others based on their actions and we judge ourselves by our intentions. Here is an example of how we are able to rationalize our own behavior. “I intended to visit you at the hospital, but I felt I would get in the way and I did not want to bother you.” On the other hand, when someone does not visit you while you are a hospital patient, you dismiss him or her as being self-involved and a fair weather friend.

God has provided us with the capacity for distinguishing between good and evil. The Torah and our rabbis have given greater insight into correct and incorrect behavior, and yet with all of these resources at hand we make judgments without enough facts and without the empathy we ought to show others. If a person arrives late to an appointment he is dismissed as “passive aggressive.” If he arrives on time, he is “obsessive-compulsive.” If he arrives early, he “fears disapproval” and is too concerned about what others think.

When we are angry, we tend to either exaggerate a person’s faults or over generalize about the character of the person. If a person does one or two things wrong we tend to demonize him. Maimonides teaches in his “Laws of Repentance” (3:2), “There are some merits which outweigh many sins.” Perhaps instead of judging others we should remind ourselves of our morning prayers that call to mind that we are all created in the “image of God.” That being so, we should pray each morning that we will see “the good traits of others and not their defects” Chasidic rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk).

Questions:

1. Why, when married people are in love are they blind to their partner’s flaws and when they are divorcing, they are blind to their mate’s virtues?

2.   Are you more critical of family members than you are of friends or strangers?

3.   If you have misjudged someone, do you go out of your way to do that person a good turn?

4.   In the complex culture in which we all now live, and the contradictory influences on how we live our lives, how do/can we accord to the stranger the same acceptance we give to our fellow citizens?

Focus:

 Take to heart the thinking of Rabbi Israel Salanter, “When I first began to learn Mussar (Jewish ethical teachings on self improvement) I would get angry at the world, but not at myself. Later I would get angry at the world and also at myself. Finally, I got angry at myself alone.”

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