Health & Nutrition

Spiritual Wellness – Rule C: Flaws of Society

Rule C: A correct and balanced approach to the flaws of society

A person who lives with the false premise that he is unwanted by the people he meets and lives with, and that he is surrounded by evil strangers, may eventually conclude that the whole world around him is alien and evil, and that he is in constant danger. The likelihood of developing fears and phobias to the point of mental illness with these assumptions is inevitable.

In order to avoid these situations, every person must teach his children the three great and eminent concepts commanded by the Torah. These commandments must certainly be observed for the sake of the mitzvah itself, but as with all mitzvoth, they possess an additional benefit for the person who accustoms himself to them, until they will eventually become an inseparable part of his character:

A. “With righteousness shall you judge your fellow”[1]

B  “You shall not take revenge”[2]

C. “You shall not bear a grudge”[3]

Judging Favorably

The Talmud interprets the verse: “With righteousness shall you judge your fellow”[4] as: “You must judge your fellow man favorably”[5]. In other words, this verse does not refer to judges in a courtroom, as those judges were previously commanded in the verse:[6] “Judges and officers shall you appoint in all your cities  – which Hashem, your G-d, gives you for your tribes – and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment.” Rather, there’s a commandment here that when any Jew sees another Jew performing an act that can either be interpreted positively or negatively, he is obligated to view him in a positive light and judge him favorably. This mitzvah, which certainly helps the one being judged and spares him from being viewed as a negative person by his friends, helps the person who is judging him even more. A person who accuses his fellow, may feel very comfortable with the fact that in his opinion, he’s the only one who is right, and the others are the ones behaving inappropriately. But he doesn’t realize that he’s the greatest failure with regard to his attitude towards the world. He’s usually bitter, and his life is full of misery because according to him, there are too many negative people around him. In addition, he feels like they threaten all aspects of his life, even though the reality is totally different and in most cases, there’s absolutely no justification for his negative feelings. On the other hand, when a person accustoms himself to judge the people around him favorably, he sees his environment in a good and positive light; he feels like the world is smiling at him – as all people are intrinsically good. This gives him self-confidence.

So how do we judge people favorably? Do we have to distort our logic in order to do so?

Of course not; instead, we must train ourselves to understand people’s motives, or at the very least know, that we’re not always aware of all the details. This will lead to a favorable judgment.

For example, a man finds himself in a remote place when heavy rain begins to pour. He becomes wet to the core and hopes that someone will offer him a ride, when a car suddenly approaches. He glances over at the car and recognizes that it’s his friend’s car. He thinks to himself: “I’ve done so many favors for him in the past, he will definitely give me a ride even though I will wet his seat.” But to his dismay and despite his forceful signals, the car drove by without stopping. A person’s natural tendency is to immediately say the following: “I guess he’s not a real friend. He knows how to ask me for favors, but when I need something from him, he hardly makes an effort!” He will subsequently say: “From now on, I deem him worthless in my eyes”, and remain bitter.

However, the Torah commands us to judge our fellow man favorably by considering all the options: “Maybe this car only resembles my friend’s car”, and if he says, “but this was definitely my friend’s car”, he must continue thinking, “maybe he loaned his car to someone else?” and if he replies, “I saw that he was the driver!”, he must maintain, “well, maybe he didn’t recognize me”. And if he says, “but he waved ‘hello’ to me, of course he recognized me!”, he must continue judging him favorably and say, “maybe his car was full of passengers”, and if he says, “but I saw through the windows that there were no other passengers”, he must think: “well maybe there were boxes occupying the seats”. And if he saw that the seats were completely empty, he must still say to himself, “maybe his wife and children are waiting for him in the rain and he is rushing to pick them up.” He must continue to think in this manner, and come up with logical scenarios that will convince him of his friend’s innocence. He must also recall the times when other people had misjudged him, when they could have seen him as honest if only they had known all the details. And just as he would expect others to judge him favorably, he should judge others in the same manner.

In order to illustrate the extent of these matters, the sages of the Talmud went through the trouble of providing examples proving that the negative side was clear, and yet, dignified people of high stature were still able to judge the story in a favorable way. It was ultimately discovered that their “improbable” version of the story, was in fact, the real account of what actually took place. Here’s one example:

Our Rabbis taught: He who judges his neighbor in the scale of merit is himself judged favorably. Thus a story is told of a certain man who descended from Upper Galilee and was engaged by an individual in the South for three years. On the eve of the Day of Atonement he requested him, 'Give me my wages that I may go and support my wife and children.' 'I have no money,' answered he. 'Give me produce,' he demanded; 'I have none,' he replied. 'Give me land.' — 'I have none.' 'Give me cattle.' — 'I have none. 'Give me pillows and bedding.' — 'I have none.' [So] he slung his things behind him and went home with a sorrowful heart. After the Festival his employer took his wages in his hand together with three donkeys, one bearing food, another drink, and the third various sweetmeats, and went to his house. After they had eaten and drunk, he gave him his wages. Said he to him, 'When you asked me, Give me my wages,’ and I answered you, “I have no money,” of what did you suspect me?' 'I thought, Perhaps you came across cheap merchandise and had purchased it therewith.' 'And when you requested me, “Give me cattle,” and I answered, “I have no cattle,” of what did you suspect me?' 'I thought, they may be hired to others.' 'When you asked me, “Give me land,” and I told you, “I have no land,” of what did you suspect me?' 'I thought, perhaps it is leased to others.' 'And when I told you, “I have no produce,” of what did you suspect me?' 'I thought, perhaps they are not tithed.' 'And when I told you, “I have no pillows or bedding,” of what did you suspect me?' 'I thought, perhaps he has sanctified all his property to Heaven.' 'By the [Temple] service!' Exclaimed he, 'it was even so; I vowed away all my property because of my son Hyrcanus, who would not occupy himself with the Torah, but when I went to my companions in the South they absolved me of all my vows. And as for you, just as you judged me favorably, so may the Omnipresent judge you favorably.'

Even in times when a person cannot find any favorable possibilities, he must say to himself: “I certainly don’t possess divine inspiration, I have no real knowledge of the events currently taking place or the events that had previously occurred. What right do I have to incriminate others? Up until today, I held this person in high regard and I will continue to see him in that light”.u

Sentencing to Death Rather Than Judging Favorably

A young boy from a Yeshiva called “Etz Chaim” in Jerusalem seemed to be spending enormous amounts of money. When his principal, Rabbi Nissan Aharon Tikochinsky questioned him as to where he obtained this money from, he was full of excuses; “I saved it, I found it…” and so on. The principal consulted with the spiritual advisor of the school, Rabbi Aryeh Levin, and Reb Aryeh decided to call the boy into his office. When the boy entered, Reb Aryeh greeted him with a warm smile. He took the boy’s hand with affection and said to him: “I’ve known you for a long time now, I know that it is out of character for you to lie, and if that’s true, then tell me where you’ve obtained this money from.” “You know”, continued the Rabbi, “everyone desires money – even I do. We all have a weakness for money and we all allow ourselves to obtain it untruthful ways. So if you tell me the truth about the money, you will be forgiven – as mercy will come upon the person who confesses.” These words were spoken in a calm and pleasant way. They penetrated deeply into the boy’s heart, and he indeed confessed to the Rabbi that he steals from his father’s wallet from time to time; he takes out large sums of cash and hides it…

The principal invited the father to come for a meeting. He told him about his son’s confession, and asked the father to forgive him. Suddenly, the father began to shout at the Rabbi, saying, “how could you be suspicious of my son??? He’s a righteous boy! He must have found a wallet full of money on the street…but to accuse him of stealing???” “If so, come with me to Reb Aryeh Levin’s office”, said the principal, and he asked him to recount what the boy has told him. After Reb Aryeh conveyed the details of the story, the father fell to the floor of the office and began to shout! “Oh no! I have killed my mother-in-law!” The people who were there tried to calm the father down, but he continued to shout and cry! “What have I done? I’m a murderer!!!” But no one understood the meaning of his words. Reb Aryeh handed him a glass of water and tried to console him once more. The father began to cry and said: “On several occasions, I found large sums of money missing from my wallet, which made me immediately suspicious of my mother-in-law who lives with us, so I reprimanded her harshly. My mother-in-law was offended and said that I am accusing the righteous…however, when I saw that the money kept disappearing, I said to my wife: ‘we must put an end to this. Our young son is righteous and honest. You – I do not suspect, therefore, it must be your mother. You must decide: It is either her or me. If she doesn’t leave our house immediately, then I will leave the house. The tension in the house was palpable, and without much choice, my wife was forced to admit her mother into a nursing home. The next day, my mother-in-law passed away. What have I done??? What have I caused??? How will I be able to look at my wife again???” Reb Aryeh struggled to comfort the father. He suggested that he should go up to her grave and ask her for forgiveness for having wrongfully accused her. He also assured him that he’d speak to his wife and ask her to forgive him for what took place with her mother. And indeed, Reb Aryeh made several attempts to speak with the couple and also made a great effort in trying to reduce the tension between them so things can work out. After much effort, the couple was appeased.”[8]

It is important to stress that everything we’ve said so far, refers to people observing a situation from the sidelines. It does not mean that a person who is wronged by someone should continue to suffer and be abused by him because he is obligated to judge him favorably. A person must certainly behave in a normal manner and protect himself against anyone who tries to harm him. But at the same time, he should consider the possibility that maybe this person endured a difficult event in his life, or maybe he has simply failed to channel or refine his rigid personality. By doing this, he will accomplish two things; he will stop the abuser from aggravating him and harming him, while learning to dislike only the evil actions and not the person himself. This is the correct and fine distinction that will provide peace and remove fears and anxiety.

You Shall Not Take Revenge

It is human nature to want to repay someone for his malicious conduct. “Since he didn’t give me what I wanted, and didn’t help me when I needed him, and an opportunity arises in which he requires my help, I will not help him.” However, we have the following commandment in the Torah: “You shall not take revenge.”[9] But if he says, “Okay, I agree to help him, but let me at least remind him that I’m better than him by saying: “You did not help me when I needed you, but I, on the other hand, will help you.” But the Torah stands against this and instructs: “You shall not bear a grudge.” Even that, you may not do – you may not hold a grudge, even in your heart. This way, whenever he asks you for help, you will not feel compelled to remind him of his past behavior. Yet, you may say – “my heart is shouting! I want to teach him a lesson!”, but the Torah has eliminated that possibility by commanding us not to take revenge or hold a grudge.

Here are the words of the Sefer Hachinuch on the mitzvah of “You shall not take revenge”: [10]

Not to avenge oneself; in other words, that we were prohibited from taking revenge of an Israelite. It applies for example, if an Israeli harmed or inflicted pain on another in any kind of matter where it would be the way of most people in the world not to turn aside from seeking after the one who harmed them until they paid him back in kind for his evil action, or until they gave him pain as he had given them. From this sort of thing the Eternal Lord, blessed is He, restricted us by saying, ‘You shall not take vengeance’. In the language of the Midrash Sifra: [11] How far does the force of vengeance reach? If one asked another, ‘Lend me your sickle’, and the other did not lend it to him, then the next day the other asked him, ‘lend me your pickaxe’, whereupon he told him, ‘I will not lend it to you in the same way that you did not lend me your sickle’ – about this it was said, ‘You shall not take vengeance’. Thus it applies to all situations similar to this illustration.

At the root of the precept lies the purpose that a man should know and reflect that whatever happens to him, good or bad, is caused by the Eternal Lord, blessed is He, to occur to him; from a human hand, from a man’s brother’s hand, nothing can be without the will of the Eternal Lord, blessed is He. Therefore, should a man inflict suffering or pain on him, let him know in his soul, that his bad deeds were the cause, and the Eternal Lord decreed this upon him; and let him not set his thoughts to take revenge from him. For the other is not the [primary] cause of his trouble, since it is sin that brought it about. As David (peace be with him) said, ‘So let him curse, because the Lord has told him’:[12] he attributed the matter to his sin, not to Shim’i ben Gerah. Moreover, there is another great benefit resulting from the precept: [it serves] to stop contention and remove hates from people’s hearts. And when there is peace among people, the Eternal Lord grants them peace. 

And in the commentary on the mitzvah of “do not bear a grudge”, the Sefer Hachinuch writes: [13]

‘Do not bear a grudge’ means that we must avoid holding a grudge in our hearts for an evil action done against us by an Israelite. Even if we resolve in our minds not to reward him for his deeds, or even just remembering his sin in our heart, is forbidden for us, as it says: ‘Do not bear a grudge’.

And in Sifra it says:[14] And what is bearing a grudge? If one says to his fellow: ‘Lend me your axe, he replies ‘No’, and on the morrow the second asks: ‘Lend me your garment’, and he answers: ‘Here it is. I am not like you who would not lend me [what I asked for]’ — that is bearing a grudge. This mitzvah is like the previous one of ‘do not take revenge’.

Meaning, these commandments have two goals:

One, is to recognize that the person who refused to do you the favor is merely an instrument – a “stick” in G-d’s hand who decided not to extend that favor to you, and by doing so, he helps to cleanse you of your sins. So why would you become angry at the stick? Instead, be angry with yourself for sinning and causing yourself this grief. The friend who has unwittingly chosen to be the instrument in executing G-d’s decree, will be tried in the Heavenly court for his deeds (as G-d has many ways by which he can punish the person  – it is in the hands of man to choose the proper mode of behavior). With regard to the mitzvoth of not taking revenge of bearing a grudge, the person is obligated to reflect upon the fact that it is not up to him to judge his friend, instead, he must focus on correcting and elevating himself until he no longer bears a grudge in his heart.

The second goal is, “to disengage all strife and remove hatred from the hearts of mankind”, and who will benefit most from this? At first glance it seems as though it is most beneficial to the friend who initially refused to help, and is now the recipient of the favor. However, the truth is that the ultimate winner is the one who removes all hatred from his heart and continues to live a happy and peaceful life. After all, how miserable is the man who carries mounds of complaints and resentments in his heart that intensify over the years? Moreover, it may damage his health. Studies[15] show that many cancer patients carry grudges and resentments so great that they burn inside the person and damage his physical and mental health.

By contrast, how easy and pleasant is the life of the person who trains himself to live by the laws of “do not take revenge or hold a grudge”. It is certainly not easy to attain, but every person has the ability to put these commandments into practice and reflect upon their meaning and purpose until they become an inseparable part of his character.

A person who judges his wife, neighbors, boss, employees or anyone else favorably and does not take revenge or even hold a grudge in his heart against people who refuse to attend to him, will maintain a healthy mind and live a pleasant and peaceful life.

It should be noted, that we only focused on major thinking patterns directly related to the maintenance of a healthy mind, but there is no doubt that working towards loftier goals in shaping one’s character and correcting his traits, will elevate the person more and more towards a balanced life that’s calmer and more content. The more humility a person possesses, and the less he chases honor and desires, the more positive his perspective on life will be, and the happier he will be for everyone around him. The more he works on shaping his character according to the instruction of his Creator, the happier and calmer he will feel. There’s a separate chapter in this book dedicated to the shaping of one’s character.


Notes and Sources

[1] Vayikra 19:15

[2] Vayikra 19:18

[3] Ibid

[4] Vayikra 19:15

[5] Shavuot 30a

[6] Devarim 16:18

[8] From the book, Tzadik Yesod Olam page 178.

[9] Vayikra 19:18

[10] Sefer Hachinuch, mitzvah 241

[11] Sifra Kedoshim Parsha 2:4; Talmud Yoma 23a

[12] Shmuel 2, 16:11

[13] Sefer Hachinuch, mitzvah 242

[14] Sifra Kedoshim Parsha 2:4; Talmud Yoma 23a

[15] Thomas, Sandra P. Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N; Groer, Maureen Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N; Davis, Mitzi Ph.D., R.N; Droppleman, Patricia Ph.D., R.N; Mozingo, Johnie Ph.D., R.N; Pierce, Margaret M.S.N., R.N, ‘Anger and Cancer: AN ANALYSIS OF THE LINKAGES', Cancer Nursing, 23(5): 344-349, October 2000 Harburg E, Julius M, Kaciroti N, Gleiberman L, Schork MA, ‘Expressive/suppressive anger-coping responses, gender, and types of mortality: a 17-year follow-up', (Tecumseh, Michigan, 1971-1988), Department of Epidemiology, School of Public Health, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA.

Adapted from “The Keys to Life” by Rabbi Zamir Cohen


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