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D’var Torah: Parashat Acharei Mot – Kedoshim

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In his D’var Torah this week, the Chief Rabbi asks us the question: Have you ever terribly misjudged a person?

Have you ever terribly misjudged a person?

In Parshat Kedoshim, which this week we read together with Parashat Acharei Mot, we have the Mitzvah Betzedek Tishpot Amitecha, ‘You shall judge your fellow with righteousness’.

And of course, this refers to a Beit Din, a court of law which needs to dispense justice in a righteous and upright manner.

But in addition, our sages say, that this Mitzvah applies to each and every one of us. From here we learn that we should judge other people favourably, we should give them the benefit of the doubt.

‘We should judge other people favourably, we should give them the benefit of the doubt’

In Pirkei Avot we are taught, Al Tadun Et Chaveircha Ad Shetagia Limkomo, ‘Don’t judge others until you come to their place’ – which means we should always appreciate the pressures, the influences, the extenuating circumstances in the lives of others. Those very people, whom we wish to criticise, might very well be, far more righteous than we are.

Some take it even literally to say, Ad Shetagia Limkomo, ‘Until you come to their place’ – until you come into their homes, until you are part of their cities, the environment within which they live, without really appreciating that, you can’t judge others.

The Talmud tells us a fascinating anecdote in Mesechet Sanhedrin (102b). Rav Ashi, one of our greatest of scholars, was giving a Shuir, a lesson, to his students on the Malchei Yisrael, the ‘great kings of Israel’. His theme for that particular Shuir were the kings – Yeravam, Achav and Menashe. Amongst the worst of our kings, who did so much evil in their lives.

Rav Ashi ran out of time, so he said to his students, “Lets reconvene tomorrow when we will carry on with details of our three learned friends”. His students took that sarcastic remark very well.

That night in a dream, Menashe appeared to Rav Ashi, and he said to him, “Why today in the Shuir did you refer to me in that way?”

Rav Ashi was stunned into silence. Then Menashe said to him, “I’ve got a Halachik question for you – after you make Hamotzi on bread, for your very first bite, do you go for the piece of bread you like the best or can you just bite into any part of the bread?”

Rav Ashi said “Gosh, I’ve never heard any view on that, I don’t know the answer!”

Menashe then said “Well, I’ll tell you the Halacha, after you have made a Bracha over any type of food, the first bite should be from the part of the food that you like the best”.

Rav Ashi then said to Menashe “If you are such a great Talmid Chacham, if you know so much, why did you lead our people into an entire generation of idolatry?”

Menashe replied and he said “Had you been living in my time, I guarantee you that you would have picked up the hem of your coat and you would have run to those idols with me”.

‘In the world of football, we talk about going for the ball and not for the man. That’s exactly the Jewish way’

From this Gemarah we learn a very powerful lesson. That is, we shouldn’t be quick to criticise other people.

In the world of football, we talk about going for the ball and not for the man. That’s exactly the Jewish way. We need to identify what is wrong. We need to challenge the ills of society. We need to be champions of all that which is right. However, we should leave judging people, who perpetrate whatever it is, in the hands of the Almighty.

As far as we’re concerned, we need to give people the benefit of the doubt. Betzedek Tishpot Amitecha – we need to judge others in a favourable light.

Shabbat Shalom