By Rabbi Yisroel Shusterman
This week’s Parsha Perspective is dedicated by Mr. Binyomin Philipson in memory of his late mother
Mrs. Ellen (Elka bas Zisel) Philipson OBM.
A lady overheard two other ladies in the local supermarket lamenting the behavior of a certain teenage girl. As the lady overheard more and more of the conversation, she became increasingly irritated by the bad behavior she was hearing about and found herself wondering what kind of parents could be so bad and irresponsible as to allow the situation she was hearing about continue. Subsequently, one of the ladies mentioned the name of the girl in question and she realized, to her horror, that they were discussing her own daughter! Of course at that point, she realized how differently she would have judged the situation. After all, when it comes to ourselves and "our own" we always see things differently!
The Torah portion this Shabbat (Devarim (Deuteronomy) 1:1-3:22) begins the fifth book of the Torah.
In the opening lines of the portion, the Torah tells us that "These are the words which Moses spoke to all of Israel..." The Torah then relates how Moses (in a very subtle and non-offensive manner) reminded the Jewish people of their various failings throughout the years in the desert. The Torah specifically relates that he spoke of these failings to all of Israel. When Moses spoke to G-d, however, he related only the positive traits and virtues of the Jewish people. He argued on their behalf, no matter what they did wrong. He always sought to justify their actions, however difficult it was to do so.
We can learn a lot about good character traits from these events. Often we find ourselves in a situation of hearing something about somebody else and being in a position to say something that might change things for the better. However it is all too easy to remain silent. Moses teaches us that this is not so. If absolutely necessary, we may find an appropriate moment to mention something that we feel needs attention to a close friend or acquaintance. This only applies to our relationship with that person and to our private communications with that person. When speaking to others about that person, or hearing that person discussed by others, we must always seek to give the benefit of the doubt, to advocate on their behalf however unlikely the scenario.
Taking this one step further, the ideal would be for us to advocate on that person's behalf in our own mind and not just with other people. Just as I will always have a good excuse and justification when it comes to my own actions and inadequacies, if I truly cherish and respect my colleague, I will apply the same generosity when it comes to their apparent failings.
Chassidic tradition takes this idea even further and teaches that when it comes to myself I should be very critical, always looking to improve my behavior and never being satisfied with weak excuses. When it comes to somebody else, I should go to the opposite extreme and seek to ascribe positive motives or good justifications to their actions, however far-fetched this may seem.
We are currently in a time of the Jewish calendar which mourns the destruction of both Temples. The Second Temple was destroyed as a result of "baseless hatred" between Jews. The only antidote to baseless hatred is unconditional love. A good start is to give them the benefit of the doubt and to always judge favorably.
May all of us find favor with each other and with G d and may we merit peace and harmony in our days.
(Excerpts from Chabad.org - by Rabbi Mordechai Wollenberg)