Part I. You’re a Judge
THE WEALTHY MAN AND THE PAUPER
In this week’s parsha there’s a mitzvah of בְּצֶדֶק תִּשְׁפֹּט עֲמִיתֶךָ – “You should judge your fellowman with tzedek, with righteousness” (Kedoshim 19:15). Now, in its most simple pshat what that means is that if you’re a judge, if you’re a dayan in the beis din, so you must always be on guard that your first inclination, your emotions, shouldn’t be the reason for your decision. Don’t allow any superficial thoughts to lead you to conclusions; instead you must be careful to follow the din of the Torah in all its details.
Let’s say you’re a judge and now there’s a poor man standing before you; he’s one of the two litigants who came to the beis din. Now, you’re a compassionate man after all – so you might say, “This poor fellow has a tough life – and I should go now and make him guilty and make it even worse?! Let me give him a break!” “No,” says Hashem, “Don’t do that”: לֹא תִשָּׂא פְנֵי דָל – “Don’t follow your superficial emotions in the courtroom and try to give an edge to the poor man” (ibid.).
On the other hand, sometimes it might be a wealthy man, somebody important, and so your inclination might be to judge him more favorably. After all, he’s much more impressive, this well-heeled fellow, and just seeing him in his four hundred dollar suit makes his arguments seem stronger. “Nothing doing!” says Hashem: וְלֹא תֶהְדַּר פְּנֵי גָדוֹל – “Don’t show any preferable honor to an important person” (ibid.) If you’re a judge, it has to be b’tzedek. You have to follow the strict letter of the law; whatever Hakadosh Baruch Hu prescribes in the Torah. That’s the job of a dayan – he has to subjugate his feelings, his emotions, to what Hashem expects him to think, and to pasken b’tzedek.
AN ADDITIONAL LAYER
Now all of this appears to be irrelevant to us here. It’s an admonition to dayanim who sit in a court, but for us ordinary people, it doesn’t seem to apply at all. Where does this mitzvah of b’tzedek tishpot amisecha come into our lives? It could be that one or two of you will one day study the intricate details of Choshen Mishpat, all the dinei mamonos, and you’ll get a certain semicha, ‘yadin yadin’. And once you receive that permission to judge dinei mamonos so besides for all the dinim you’ll have to know, you’ll also have to always remember these words of the Torah: בְּצֶדֶק תִּשְׁפֹּט עֲמִיתֶךָ – “Don’t let your emotions get the best of you when you’re sitting in judgement in the beis din.” But for most of us it’s not applicable at all.
However, that’s not the full meaning of the possuk. There’s an additional layer of meaning in those words that we’re going to study tonight, and it’s a mitzvah that applies to all of us, all the time. In Mesichta Shevuos (30a) the sages tell us that בְּצֶדֶק תִּשְׁפֹּט עֲמִיתֶךָ is also teaching us as follows: עַם שֶׁאִתְּךָ בַּתּוֹרָה וּבְמִצְוֹת הִשְׁתַּדֵּל לְדוּנוֹ יָפֶה יָפֶה – A person who is with you in Torah and mitzvos, be mishtadeil, put effort into judging him favorably” (Shevuos 30a). It’s what we learned in Mesichta Avos: הֱוֵי דָּן אֶת כָּל הָאָדָם לְכַף זְכוּת – “You, every single one of you, should make sure to judge your fellow Jew with righteousness.” L’kaf zechus means that you have to ignore the kaf chov, the side of guilt,and instead go out of your way to judge your fellow man l’kaf zechus, to the side of merit.
DON’T BE A COW OR A LIBERAL
And what that means is that every person is a judge – it can’t be helped. As soon as you see somebody, you’re forming opinions. You can’t avoid it! If you were a cow, chas v’shalom, so you’d be able to go through life without thinking, without judging; but if you’re an adam then you’re already a dayan. Don’t be a liberal and say “Oh no, I don’t judge anyone; I would never do that!” It’s not true! You’re always passing judgement on people; don’t think otherwise. You’re judging your wife or your husband all the time! Why did he do this? Why didn’t she do that? Why did he say this or that? You’re judging your neighbors all the time! Why did he block my driveway? Why does he let his son ride his bike on my lawn? You’re judging your children all the time! And your co-workers, and your chavrusa, and the people in shul, and the Rav of your shul. You’re even making judgements about strangers who pass you by on the street! You’re a full time dayan.
And even though you’re not publicizing your decision, you’re not telling anybody what you’re thinking, nevertheless, Hashem is yireh l’leivav, He sees what’s going on in your thoughts. And so in the eyes of Hakodosh Boruch Hu, you’re acting as a dayan. And so, if you want to succeed in your “career of dayanus”, you had better get busy purifying your thoughts as much as possible, and doing whatever you can to make sure that you’re judging those around you favorably all the time.
WE’RE OBLIGATED TO DRILL
Now, if you’re paying attention you’ll note that the mitzvah בְּצֶדֶק תִּשְׁפֹּט עֲמִיתֶךָ is a source for two seemingly contradictory halachos. On the one hand, the Torah is obligating a judge to issue his verdict on the basis of absolute justice, in strict accordance with the law. And yet, these same words are teaching us that outside the beis din we are obligated in the mitzvah הֱוֵי דָּן אֶת כָּל הָאָדָם לְכַף זְכוּת -“Judge your neighbor favorably,” which means that we are obligated not to be strict and instead to do our utmost to justify the actions and behavior of our fellow Jews.
And it’s the resolution to this apparent contradiction that will provide us with the tools we need to be successful at being dan l’kaf zchus. Because what b’tzedek tishpot really means is that we expect from a dayan in the courtroom not to be fooled by superficialities. So what of it if he’s a poor man dressed in rags?! Who cares if he’s mumbling or stuttering when presenting his claim?! And if he’s a wealthy man, if he’s dressed in a tailored suit and he’s so impressive looking – so what?! Are you going to pass judgement on the basis of such a shallow thing?! With half-baked ideas you’ll pasken on a Yisroel?! Chas v’shalom! The dayan is expected to ignore the veneer of superficialities and drill down to the core of justice – he’s expected to be dan din emes la’amito.
It’s not easy for a dayan to see past the superficialities in the courtroom. It’s not easy to ignore what’s right in front of his eyes – it’s there; it’s so real and concrete. What he sees in the poor man is real! What he sees in the wealthy man is obvious; it’s so tangible! And so, it’s very hard to push it all away, to ignore it completely, and come to the right decision. And yet, as difficult as it might be, that’s the obligation of b’tzedek tishpot amisecha.
WE HAVE A BIG JOB!
And outside of the courtroom we’re expected to do the same! We have that same obligation outside the beis din; absolutely. In all of your contacts with amisecha, with your fellow Jews – the ones you like as well as the ones you don’t like as much – you’re expected to ignore the superficial things that bother you and instead you’re obligated to drill down to the core of the person and judge him favorably. And that means that we all have a big job ahead of us! Because it means that you have to think!
So don’t be lazy about it! Nobody said it’s easy; you might have to take a minute or two to think, but you have to do it. You’re michuyav to think, to search your mind for the answer that satisfies you, until you can give your fellow man the benefit of the doubt and walk away without any hakpadah in your heart.
WHO WILL CRITICIZE THE GREAT MAN?
Let’s say your wife says a sharp word to you – it happens sometimes. So instead of getting upset, instead of being hurt, you’re obligated – it’s a mitzvah d’oraisah – to search for reasons to give her the benefit of the doubt. First of all, maybe you deserved it – it could very well be you deserved to hear some criticism. Absolutely! When a wife criticizes a husband, you should know that she is doing a very great thing. Nobody will criticize this great man. Who’s going to tell him the truth outside the house? And after a while he begins to think, “Maybe I really am great.” So he comes home and right away his wife deflates him. She puts a pin in his balloon and it bursts. That’s a tremendous achievement. It’s a perfection to be cut down to size once in a while. And so, you can forget about being upset at her; you should thank her.
And let’s say she was wrong – you didn’t deserve to be told off at all. So you’ll be a failure and judge your spouse because of something superficial; she criticized you; so what?! In two minutes she’ll forget what she said. You’re going to judge her because of that?! Maybe she was up all night with a crying baby while you were sleeping soundly. Maybe she had an impossible day with the children. Whatever it might be, you’re obligated to seek to justify what your fellow Jew does or says by giving him or her the benefit of the doubt.
MEASURE FOR MEASURE
Now in Mesichta Shabbos (127b) there is a statement which has to be examined by us if we want to understand this subject more thoroughly. The gemara there states as follows: הַדָּן אֶת חֲבֵרוֹ לְכַף זְכוּת הַמָּקוֹם יְדִינֵהוּ לְכַף זְכוּת – “If you judge your fellow man on the side of merit, so middah k’neged middah, Hakodosh Boruch will judge you favorably.”
Now, those words are somewhat difficult for us to understand. Because up until now we learned pshat in being dan l’kaf zechus like this: if a person did something, and you’re in doubt – it’s possible that he meant well, it could be; but it also could be that he did it for a wrong reason, that’s also a possibility. It’s a safek, a doubt, so it’s a mitzvah to judge him favorably. You should be charitable and give him the benefit of the doubt.
But if judging l’kaf zechus only means that you’re obligated to give others the benefit of the doubt, then when the gemara says that Hashem will pay you back in turn, it means that when Hashem is in doubt about you, He will judge you favorably. But how could we say such a thing? What sense does it make to say that Hashem is dan l’kaf zechus when He’s in doubt, chas v’shalom? Doubt?! He’s never in doubt about you! Hakadosh Baruch Hu knows exactly who you are. You can’t give the benefit of the doubt when there’s no doubt at all.
LEARNING A NEW ATTITUDE
And so we’re forced to learn another layer in the pshat of what it means to fulfill the mitzvah of b’tzedek tishpot amisecha, and we’ll say as follows: To be dan l’kaf zchus is actually much more than learning how to clarify a doubt – it’s learning an attitude in dealing with other peoplethat leaves no room for doubt altogether! What that means is that we’re expected to acquire the middahof seeking out the positive in people; to be a חָפֵץ בְּטוֹבָתוֹ שֶׁל חֲבֵרוֹ, to want only good things for the people around us, and thereby train ourselves to see only good.
When you appreciate people by focusing on their ma’alos, so you begin to actually like them and want them to be a zaka’im – you want them to be free of all faults, to always be good. If you want a person to be a zakai – if you actually desire to look at people favorably – so you’ll find ways to explain his actions in a way that it should be a z’chus. And even when you can’t do that, you’ll appreciate his other ma’alos so much, that it will weigh down the scale to the kaf z’chus and you’ll overlook the negative. “Who cares about that?! It’s only a narishkeit,” you’ll think. “I love that man!”
“Oh,” Hashem says, “You want him to be a zakai? So I want you to be a zakai too.” And when Hakadosh Baruch Hu wants things to be good for you, you can be sure He has ways of accomplishing that; He has His ways. And so when you train yourself to look at the good, to overlook the superficial things that may bother you, so middah k’neged middah, Hashem treats you the same way.
THEY ONLY WANT DIRT ON THE PRESIDENT
Now, in order to judge somebody l’kaf zechus, if you want to succeed in seeing people as zaka’im, so you’re going to need training in becoming an oheiv tzedek; you have to love to see people in a good light. You know, when people love to see trouble in the world, so they pick up the newspaper to see what crimes were done. No one is interested to see if somebody did a good thing; if somebody kept the law let’s say, or if somebody helped his fellow man. That doesn’t matter – they wouldn’t put that in a newspaper. “Who was caught doing something embarrassing?” “What new faults did they dig up in the President today?” That’s news! That’s what people want to hear.
To say that here we have a President who is a decent man, who minded his own business – I’m talking about Reagan now – that he didn’t want to put big taxes on you and that he wanted to protect the country from the Soviet Union, that they won’t speak about. They won’t tell you that President Reagan didn’t mix into other people’s business. To say that he didn’t try to push the Medinas Yisroel into making agreements with Arabs, no, that they won’t talk about.
He wasn’t pressing anybody; he just wanted to keep Americans safe and wealthy. He was a quiet man and he was good natured and smiled to everybody. But that wasn’t good enough for the journalists, for the meshuganeh liberals. No, that’s no good at all, nothing doing. “Reagan, no good!” “Reaganomics, no good!” “The Reagan years were the worst years! He’s no good at all.” Always looking for faults.
A PRACTICAL PROGRAM
And therefore the program for success is to rise above all the faults that you have the tendency to see in people, and to see the tzad zchus, the other side of the scale. Now, I know it’s not easy to think, to always be using your mind – it’s a burden – it’s much easier to make judgments on what you see superficially. But Hakodosh Boruch Hu says that you have to make up your mind to get along with any meshugas, anything that you think is an idiosyncrasy, that you think is unreasonable. And so you have to, as much as possible, ignore all the faults you imagine you see because that’s what the Torah requires of you; to judge a person by his kaf zchus, and to overlook the kaf chov.
It’s so important to develop an appreciation of the good qualities of the people around you. I’ll give you a practical eitzah for accomplishing this – an eitzah that’s been tried and tested. One of the most practical programs for success in this endeavor is to attach a good middah, a ma’aleh, to all the people you know. Your friends, your neighbors, your coworkers, everyone has something that makes them special. I had a rebbe once, a great rebbe, and he once told us that a person is not one thing, he’s a bundle of things. It was sixty years ago that I heard him say that and I remember it like yesterday. “A person is not one middah,” he said, “He’s a bundle of middos.” So one thing might be not good, but something else is good in him.
YOU’LL BE SURPRISED AT WHAT’S IN THE BUNDLE
And so when we see the man in shul who is a nuisance, the one who gets on people’s nerves, we don’t see that. Instead we look for the ma’alos, for the kaf zchus. He pays the electric bill for the shul. Quietly, without anybody knowing, he pays the bills for the shul. Now, when I see this man, I see the man who pays for the air conditioner; the man who pays for the lights. That’s what I see and I don’t see anything else! Because our job in this world is to ignore the more difficult parts of the bundle and focus on only the good parts. And once you begin to look at people and see them only with their ma’alos, that’s your ticket to overlooking the superficialities of the things that would bother you, and fulfilling the mitzvah of being dan l’kaf zchus.
Now, if you’ll try to think about a person’s middos tovos, you’ll be surprised there isn’t a person who doesn’t have good in him. Among the shomrei Torah everybody has good qualities. In this middah he could be excellent, whereas somebody else is excellent in a different middah. So in case you can’t love the person entirely, love at least one aspect of his personality.
Let’s say he davens well. Love him for that. It says that Hashem is “oihev tzadikim.” Why does Hashem love tzaddikim? Because they give Him kavod?! They pay him money?! No; He loves them because they’re tzaddikim; they daven, they learn, they dress with tzniyus. So you can love them too! You see a tzaddik that davens well. Love that man just because of that! In your eyes, from now on that’s what you see when you see him. Another person learns well. Another person gives tzedakah. Another person is quiet and well behaved. Find what you can in each person and you’ll be surprised. You’ll be very surprised; people are full of good things. And that’s the only thing you should be looking at.
PLANT THE SEEDS
The shomrei Torah, no question that they’re full of good things. They’re raising up families of children who will be ovdei Hashem. They’re upholding the shuls and the yeshivos with their money, with their participation. They themselves are mekayeim mitzvos every day. There are many reasons why you should love these people. And Hakadosh Baruch Hu loves them for that, so with a little bit of thought you could do the same.
Try to like him because of his ma’alos – whatever they are – and little by little it will enter into your heart and you’ll gain a certain warmth towards that person. And that warmth as little as it is, it’s a tremendous achievement. That’s why we came to this world. To learn to be happy with, to see favorably all kinds of people – even the ba’alei ga’avah, and the ka’asanim, and the nuisances; everybody!
We’re learning now that the mitzvah of b’tzedek tishpot amisecha is really a program for life; and it requires planting the seeds of loving your fellow Jew in your mind, of seeing the ma’alos – of seeing only the positive- of the people around you. It’s not easy; I understand that. But even if you’ll achieve only a ma’shehu, a small fraction of this avodah, it’s a tremendous perfection of your character. And the more you plant and nurture the proper thoughts in your mind, the more you’re won over, and the more you’ll be able to fulfill this mitzvah in all of your encounters throughout your life.
Part II. How to Judge
THE JEWS YOU BARELY NOTICE
Now, the possuk doesn’t say b’tzedek tishpot es ‘your wife’ or ‘your neighbor’ or ‘the nuisance in shul’; it says amisecha, ‘your nation’. “B’tzedek tishpot amisecha” means that “you should judge your fellow Jews – all of them – favorably.” עַם שֶׁאִתְּךָ בַּתּוֹרָה וּבְמִצְוֹת הִשְׁתַּדֵּל לְדוּנוֹ יָפֶה יָפֶה – “A person who is with you in Torah and mitzvos, be mishtadeil, put effort into judging him favorably” (Shevuos 30a). If he’s a loyal Torah Jew, then you have to judge him b’tzedek. The reshaim we leave out; it’s not our business now. Being milameid z’chus on wicked people, that I’ll leave to somebody else, somebody bigger than I am. But the great mass of frum Jews, we’re obligated to look at them all with favor.
So what do we do now with the whole Am Yisroel – people you pass on the street that you’ve never even thought about, frum Jews that you barely notice? All those frum Jews are your brothers and Hakadosh Baruch Hu expects you to have a certain attitude of being dan l’kaf zchus when you see them. It’s a mitzvah min hatorah. Amisecha doesn’t mean this man right here who is a good friend of yours; it means all of all the frum Jews. And that means that even the people we don’t know; the strangers we pass on the street, the unfamiliar people we see in shul, everyone from the Am Yisroel, we’re obligated to see them in a good light. If he’s a loyal Torah Jew, if he’s amisecha, then you have to judge him b’tzedek.
But we’ll say here that the word amisecha is doing much more than including all of the frummeh; what it does is give an impetus, a dynamo, for how to fulfill the mitzvah. Because if you train yourself to look at all of your fellow Jews as the עַם שֶׁאִתְּךָ בַּתּוֹרָה וּבְמִצְוֹת, as your comrade in arms – you’re on the same team after all – so you begin to develop a favorable attitude towards all of the Am Yisroel.
TAKE A TRIP TO BORO PARK
This is a remarkable opportunity for success in this world. It’s something you can practice all the time in the street. You see a fellow Jew, so what should you think? “He’s my brother, this man. He puts on tefillin after all. That’s enough!” When you see a Jew in the street with a covered head, whether it’s a black hat or a yarmulke, or a woman with a sheitel, you’re already sold out to that person. “He covers his head like me! He’s ours. He’s wearing a yarmulke, a cap, whatever he has, if he covers his head, he belongs to us.”
I don’t care what kind of yarmulke he wears, he’s still my brother. And even though he follows a different Rebbi, or a different set of political objectives, nevertheless, don’t lose sight of the fact that, fundamentally, he belongs to your people and that therefore you’re michuyav, you’re obligated, to think well of him. This alone that he is amisecha, that he is on your team, that should be enough for you to always look at him with favor, l’kaf zchus.
Let’s say you’re walking in a far-off neighborhood, in Bedford Stuyvesant let’s say, where there are no Jews. And suddenly you see from a distance a man with a yarmulke. A yarmulke! It’s exciting! So you feel a warmth towards him; it’s a brother, a chaver. And it’s true; he is your brother.
But it’s a mistake to think that it’s a thought you only have when you’re in an Italian neighborhood or a colored neighborhood. In a strange neighborhood maybe you’re happy to see a fellow Jew because you feel safer that way. But that’s how you should think when you walk in Boro Park. Boro Park! Big mezuzos, and everybody has beards and payos. It’s a neighborhood of amisecha so you should practice feeling warmth towards everyone on the street. I told you once before – if you have some time, I think it’s worth it to go to Boro Park and just stand there for a half hour appreciating the frum Jews. You watch as they walk back and forth, back and forth, and you’re thinking, “These are my people, and I love them all.” It’s worth every second.
THE WORLD IS GOING CRAZY
Now all this is work, but Hakadosh Baruch Hu expects that work. Otherwise, you’ll remain a person who sees only faults all of his life. Because when people have that attitude, when they’re looking for faults, so Hakadosh Baruch Hu says, “You’ll succeed,” and that’s what they find. Not only do they find faults in people, but they find trouble too. That’s what happens in this world. The natural tendency is to see the imperfections in people, and all the good, the kaf z’chus, is ignored.
Constantly today people can’t get along with each other because they are dan each other l’kaf chova. If you’re a rabbi, you’ll sit at the telephone and it’s always ringing. Husbands and wives are fighting all the time today. And in some places – a man told me he was in a certain community; I don’t want to say where it was – and he said that there are divorces, and divorces and divorces. Among Jews! What’s doing here? The world is going crazy; everybody’s fighting.
THE HUSBAND WHO IS ONLY TROUBLE
Now when you speak to them, you see right away that nobody has a havah amina of being dan l’kaf zchus. Nothing doing! Only themselves they judge favorably. I spoke to a couple of women today. They called me up to tell me that their husbands are no good at all.
I said, “Is he working?” “He works.” “Does he bum around?” “He doesn’t bum around.” “Is he shomer mitzvos?” “He’s shomer mitzvos.” “Does he give you money?” “He gives me money.”
“So what’s the trouble?” I said. “Oh, he’s only trouble,” she says. He does this wrong, he says this wrong, he acts like this and like that – a whole laundry list she’s reading off to me. “He’s so mean to me; he’s inhuman,” she said. Now, if I ask him I’m sure he’ll give me a report about his wife. She doesn’t do her work. She’s nagging me; this and that. And I’m sure that everybody’s right. A little bit everybody is right. But they’re all wrong because they’re all sinning against this great quality which Hashem said you should try to gain – to judge your fellow man l’kaf zechus – to ignore the faults of people and train yourself to focus only on their good qualities.
FORGET THAT HE FORGOT YOUR BIRTHDAY!
When she thinks about her husband, she should think that he goes to work every day. He’d like to sit home instead. He’d like to go the beis medrash to learn and instead he’s wasting his life in the shop where he’s working. It’s a great pity on him, but he’s doing it out of loyalty to his family. And she should think, “Look, my husband is an ish ne’eman.” He works hard by day and then he comes home at night. There are so many loafers today in the world, unfortunately. Some people loaf around in Brooklyn and then they take a vacation from loafing to go to Atlantic City to loaf some more. The frum loafers, they go to shtiblach to loaf; they sit in shtiblach and open a gemara and get busy loafing – he doesn’t learn a word. You ask him, “Why don’t you get a job?” he says, “תּוֹרָתוֹ אֻמָּנוּתוֹ”, he says, “My umness is learning.” What he means is that “Loafing is my umness.”
But your husband is a decent man. He’s working, supporting his family; he’s giving away his life. His life! And the wise woman appreciates that. When she sees her husband walking up the steps to the door, that’s what she sees – the man who comes home and he gives her money she needs and she appreciates that. She should think, “I love that man! He’s working all day long to support my children.” “I admire my husband the talmid chochom.” She doesn’t see that he opened his big mouth last night and said something stupid. She doesn’t see the man who forgot it was her birthday. She’s overlooking the kaf chov and she’s being dan him l’kaf zchus.
CHOLENT FOR THE MIND
That’s your job in this world – to look for the good in each person. You’re going to say that you can’t find good in your wife?! You can’t find good in your husband?! Come on; come on! That’s nothing but wickedness! And Hakadosh Baruch Hu pays the wickedness with wickedness; they see only faults and they suffer as a result.
Every man has a tendency to have complaints against his wife – it’s only natural; you’re living together and your tendency is to see the faults of a person. But the avodah we’re learning now is to train yourself to always see the kaf zchus and to let the good side of the scale outweigh the kaf chov. A wise man understands that his wife is important; that she’s raising the children, and feeding the family. Not only does she fulfill her duties in the home; she is the home! But it’s not enough to know that in general terms – he has to study the details of that so that whenever he sees his wife, that’s what he sees!
Let’s say your wife made for you a cholent. Don’t say, “It’s nothing; it’s just food.” For the wise man, for the one who wants to be dan l’kaf zchus, even a cholent is enough to win him over. If you think about it, your wife gave you cooked potatoes; but not only potatoes, she knows how to make it brown and tasty. She added in onions for you, and barley and beans too. It’s a whole meal that she prepared for you. And if while you’re sitting there and enjoying it, you think about that wonderful thing that she did for you, so it will become part of your personality. Not only does it go into your body – it becomes your hair and your bones and your eyes – but it goes into your mind. Your wife should be a different person in your mind after a good cholent. And after every supper she becomes even more and more precious in your eyes.
DON’T STOP THE DRILLING
That’s how you should think about these things; the appreciation for the food she made for you should fill your mind at the same time it’s filling your stomach. Now, I’m just giving one little example. There’s no end to the appreciation you should be feeling for your wife; its mamish endless. And once a person begins to think in these terms, he’ll find ways and means of assessing the importance of his wife in his life, the happiness that she’s giving him by taking care of the children and the house, and for what she creates in the kitchen. It’s an endless happiness that she brings to your life.
And so you have to train yourself – it won’t happen by itself. So you see your wife you should say to yourself, “I love that woman over there.” You see her on the street from far away, she goes shopping, and now you see her coming back carrying shopping bags, so you say, “I love that woman over there, carrying home the food for my children.”
Only that what happens? The husband ignores all the good that his wife does and he sees only the superficialities – she nagged him, she complained, she wasted money – he never drills down past the superficial things to the core of what his wife really is, and what she means to his life. And same thing with the wife – to be a dan l’kaf zchus she has to be a dayan who ignores all the superficialities of the ba’alei din, and focuses only on the truth to fulfill the mitzvah of b’tzedek tishpot amisecha.
CANCEL THE THORN
Now, I only mention a husband and wife because it is the most common interaction and the home is a great opportunity for perfection – but that’s how you should train yourself to look at everyone, by focusing only on the good; even small things. You must look for good things. No question, everyone has good things. And even if one thing might not be the best, something else is good. And your job in this world is to ignore the more difficult parts of the bundle and focus on only the good parts.
Here’s a man is roidef achar hakavod, he loves kavod. He’s a ba’al ga’avah, he thinks much of himself. Naturally, that’s what sticks out at you – it’s a thorn in your eyes. And it will remain that way forever unless you cancel out the kaf chov by focusing on the kaf zchus. And if you’ll look you’ll find a lot of good! But if you’re busy looking only for what’s wrong, you’ll find that too and that’s how you’ll remain a failure.
And the truth is that once you start looking, you’ll discover, you’ll find all types of good qualities. And that’s the mishpat tzedek, the righteous judging that Hashem wants from you. בְּצֶדֶק תִּשְׁפֹּט עֲמִיתֶךָ – You should judge your fellow man with tzedek, by focusing only on the tzedek. You’re a judge all the time, and if you’re an oheiv tzedek, so you love to find good things in people, and that’s how you follow the program of Hakadosh Baruch Hu.
THE MOST INTERESTING THING
Now, you have to know how to look at your fellow Jews – it’s an avodah! First of all, look at his face, and remind yourself that it’s tzelem Elokim. Isn’t that reason enough to honor him and to think well of him? Hakadosh Baruch Hu gave that reason! He said, “The face of a man resembles Mine” (Bereishis 9:6). It’s not an accident. Every person you look at is a tzelem Elokim. It’s a beautiful sight, the human face. Look at a person’s face. Eyes! Eyes are so expressive, so beautiful. You can see the neshama, you can see intelligence shining out of the eyes. Even the cheeks, the way the cheeks move, a smile or sadness; it’s expressing emotions. The nobility of the human countenance is unequal. In the entire universe, there’s nothing like it – if you’ll travel, let’s say, to the far off countries; if you’ll climb mountains and search the vast wilderness, you’ll never see anything in the universe as interesting as a human face.
Now how to explain that, that’s a different subject. It’ll take us a lot of time to understand that. But we have to at least practice it up – it’s in the Torah after all. So when you look at the face of a fellow Jew, the very first obligation is to think that you’re seeing something very very impressive.
Only that we’re very far away from the ruach haTorah. The spirit of the Torah declares that when you look at the face of a fellow Jew, you should be very much impressed. Now don’t tell me, “Oh, it’s exaggerated. You’re blowing up, making a whole story out of nothing.” It’s in the Chumash! כִּדְמוּתוֹ – that’s the resemblance of Hashem. And Hakadosh Baruch Hu insists that we should learn the Torah and get into our heads, that when you’re looking at the face of a person, you should think that you’re seeing the tzelem Elokim.
Men look in a men’s faces, and women look in women’s faces. And when you look, the first thing is to think, “Tzelem Elokim.” And no matter how much you’ll think, you should know, you’re not thinking enough. Don’t say, “I’m maybe overdoing it.” You’re always under doing it! And even if you spend years of this effort, you should know, you haven’t reached the standards that Hakadosh Baruch Hu expects in appreciating what it means tzelem Elokim.
THE GREATNESS OF TALL SKINNY JEWS
So now you have what to be busy with. Instead of thinking what faults you can find in people – he has a comical face; he talks too much; he’s tall and skinny; he’s short and fat – instead of looking for things to ridicule, you have to get busy now looking at the tzelem Elokim in his face. If you can’t do it with all the people around, then start one at a time. You’re standing on the street and looking at your fellow Jews walk by and you’re thinking, “Tzelem Elokim, tzelem Elokim, tzelem Elokim.”
Now I understand that these words don’t find an echo in your mind immediately. But you must understand that Torah must be learned; it’s Torah after all. There’s a lot of work to be done and don’t think you can shirk it. It’s expected of us that we should plant this seed in our minds and as the years go by it will take root and it will grow branches and fruit. Of course it’s artificial; in the beginning you’ll be a hypocrite, but הַחִיצוֹנִיּוּת מְעוֹרֶרֶת אֶת הַפְּנִימִיּוֹת. We make an attempt, and after a while, the spark will be kindled in your heart. הַבָּא לְטַהֵר מְסַיְּעִין לוֹ – Hakadosh Baruch Hu will give you assistance and you’ll gain a certain appreciation of amisecha, the Am Yisroel.
Now once you understand the greatness of tzelem Elokim – you don’t yet, it’s a tremendous idea; a skyscraper – but there’s another skyscraper that’s even greater than that one. The mishna in Avos says (3:14)that while it’s true that all of humanity is blessed with tzelem Elokim, but there’s one nation in the world that is praised with an even greater title. It says חֲבִיבִין יִשְׂרָאֵל שֶׁנִּקְרְאוּ בָּנִים לַמָּקוֹם – “How beloved are Yisroel who are called the children of Hashem.” A child of Hashem! Now, that’s something! The first skyscraper of tzelem Elokim goes up to the skies, but this skyscraper goes all the way up to Hashem. “How beloved are Yisroel who are called children of Hakodosh Boruch Hu.”
TORAH OR GARBAGE?
We’re accustomed to saying, “We’re all children.” Let’s say the reform Jews get together on a stage with the NAACP, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and they say, “We stand in solidarity with our African American brothers because we’re all children of the same G-d.” That’s not Torah – it’s garbage. Nobody is the children of Hashem except for the Am Yisroel. בָּנִים אַתֶּם לַהַשֵּׁם אֱלֹקֵיכֶם – Youare children of Hashem and nobody else, and make no mistake about it. Now, we don’t care what the world says – they’ll say it’s chauvinism; maybe so, but we stick by the Torah, and the Torah says that only we are the children of Hashem.
Suppose a man comes to see you. “I noticed that you married my cousin.” So you ask him, “Who are you?” “I’m the son of the rosh yeshiva of Ponovezh,” he says. “Oooh-wha! I didn’t know I got such a mechutan! The rosh yeshiva of Ponovezh became my mechutan by marriage.” You’re excited over him; he’s the child of somebody great! But you can tell him, “I’m the son of somebody greater. I’m the son of Hakadosh Baruch Hu.” He jumps up! “You’re the son of Hakadosh Baruch Hu?!” “Yes, I am”, you say. “It’s in the Chumash, בָּנִים אַתֶּם לַהַשֵּׁם אֱלֹקֵיכֶם.”
THE VERY HEAVY JEW
We’re expected to think that way. It’s not written in Pirkei Avos for nothing. Chavivin Yisrael! We are the beloved ones! Now when it says we’re beloved, it doesn’t mean that Hashem likes us like we let’s say, like a second cousin or a nephew. It’s much more than that; it means He loves every single one of us more than anything else in the entire world.
And we’re told this for an important purpose. And that is because we’re expected to think that way about every single Jew. Not in general, in a way that’s abstract. Yes, that you’re willing to say: “In general, on all Jews, I can say chavivin. I can love the Am Yisroel in general. But when it comes to this Jew, not this one. And that one? No, not him either.” And that’s a terrible mistake. Chavivin Yisroel, means every one of them! All shomrei Torah; even though he’s not from your shtiebel, not from your community. A different shtiebel, so you might think, he’s not in your neighborhood, maybe not your nusach; maybe he’s a Sefardi or a Taimani. Maybe he’s a Russian Jew or a Polish Jew, so you think, “Not him, not him.” No, when you see any fellow Jew, any shomer Torah u’mitzvos, you’re looking at a person who is most beloved by Hashem.
If you have a big scale, and you put on one side of the scale the sun, and also the millions of stars and all the planets too; and also all the nations – all the Englishmen, all the Americans, all the French, every other people on the face of the earth, all on one side of the scale. And on the other side is this one Yisroel, this one Jew that passes by you on the street, so he is machri’a es kulan – he outweighs all of them. That’s what chavivin means, and that’s how you have to think.
DON’T BE LAZY!
Now, I’m very sorry to say that all of this will not happen, nothing good will grow in your head, if you’re a lazy man. עַל שְׂדֵה אִישׁ עָצֵל עָבַרְתִּי – “I passed the field of a lazy man,” said Shlomo Hamelech. And what is growing there? הִנֵּה כָּסָה פָּנָיו חֲרוּלִים thorns and brambles; all types of weeds grow in the head of a lazy man. Maybe he was too lazy to come to these lectures altogether. Or maybe he came, but it was entertainment, to get out of the house a little, that’s all. That’s good too, it’s also good – but if you never work on these ideas, so what grows in your mind instead of delicious fruit? רֹאשׁ וְלַעֲנָה – “Poison growths.” Sinas chinam, miskabeid b’klon chaveiro, other thorns. But not b’tzedek tishpot amisecha; no, no, that won’t grow on its own.
And so you have to always be on guard – you’re busy always weeding out your field, pulling up thorns that creep up in your mind. Let’s say a thought comes into your mind when you see this person, “Why is he wearing that?” “Why did he do such a thing?” “Why did she say that?” You can’t let a poison weed like that fester in your mind! You can’t be an ish atzeil, a lazy person, and allow that thought to grow. You have to do something about it! And so you get busy right away thinking the thoughts we spoke about tonight.
Now, don’t think that it’s merely a thought. No, you’re actually planting seeds in your mind. And these seeds, once they take root, they grow into beautiful flowers of dan es chaveiro l’kaf zchus. Try to judge a fellow man with a meritorious balance, to think well of him. And the more you do it, the more you’ll succeed at this program. And the more you succeed, then Hakodosh Boruch Hu y’dineihu l’kaf zchus, the more you’ll succeed at gaining the goodwill of Hashem for yourself. Because that’s the purpose why Hashem brought you into this world, to give you one opportunity to plant a garden of delicious fruits and flowers in your mind, a garden that will last forever.
HAKADOSH BARUCH HU WILL LOVE YOU
Now how much can you do?! You’ll say, “I should love my neighbor? I should love my chavrusa and my boss? I should love the man who sits next to me in shul? That’s too much!” So Hashem says, “At least plant the seeds; as much as you can always look at that person with a favorable eye. Be dan l’kaf zchus; go out of your way to judge him favorably, to find a reason to make him a zakai in everything he does.” And הַבָּא לְטַהֵר מְסַיְּעִין לוֹ, if you try to be good, then Hashem will help you be good.
And one of the ways He’ll help you is by giving you more and more opportunities to perfect yourself – He’ll send you all types of people, He’ll put you in contact with all types of frum Jews. And כָּל עִנְיָנֵי הָעוֹלָם נִסְיוֹנוֹת הֵם לְאָדָם, everything in this world is an opportunity; every person that you meet is a test for you to see if you’ll rise to the occasion and use the opportunity to plant the seeds of b’tzedek tishpot amisecha in your mind.
And you’ll live a happier life because of it – you’ll be happy with your spouse, and with your neighbor and your boss, and with all your fellow Jews – the world becomes a happier place. And it’s a good investment as well, this business of thinking well of your fellowman, because Hamakom yidineihu l’kaf zchus, Hashem will look at your ma’alos and He’ll be happy with you. Hakadosh Baruch Hu is going to love you too; despite the fact that sometimes you can be a nuisance too. Hakadosh Baruch Hu will overlook that and see that you have good things in you. בְּמִדָּהּ שֶׁאָדָם מוֹדֵד מוֹדְדִין לוֹ – “The way you treat others is how you’ll be treated.” And when Hakadosh Baruch Hu does that, He does it with a full hand, a heaping hand of reward in this world and also in the World to Come.
HAVE A WONDERFUL SHABBOS