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If You Will It

By: Rabbi Hanoch Teller

Scene: A court of law, Mendel on the witness stand, his business partner, Velvel, in the defendant’s seat. “He’s a crook,” Mendel declares. “He was born a crook, he’s always been a crook, and he’ll die a crook!”

“Objection!” Velvel’s lawyer cries.

The judge turns to the court stenographer and asks her to read the testimony. “’He’s a crook,’” she quotes. “’He was born a crook’ he’s always been a crook, and he’ll die a crook.’” The judge orders her to strike the testimony from the record and instructs the jury to disregard Mendel’s outburst.

But it’s too late! The damage is done. Velvel’s fate will be decided by the jury members not in the court of law but in the courtrooms of their minds. The negative impression was not only made, but reinforced; the words have been struck from the record, but the image has not been erased from their minds. Only by a conscious act of will can the jurors possibly “disregard” the testimony, an act of will that opposes their natural tendency to recall it vividly.

There is no excess verbiage in the Torah. Each word has a purpose. When we read as small children “Honor your father and mother” we may wonder why it is necessary for the Torah to command us to do that which comes naturally. It is only later on, when our parents’ demands conflict with our desires that we begin to comprehend that a conscious act of will is required on our part to overcome our natural tendencies. Similarly, the commandment to “judge favorably” requires such an act of will. And the rewards for obeying this commandment are likewise great.

Many – certainly the students of Midreshet Moriah, from my experience – believe that the mitzvah of judging favorably is a Mishna in Pirkei Avot. It is also a positive commandment in Parshat Kedoshim בצדק תשפוט עמיתך, which the Talmud derives to mean, “Judge your fellow person favorably.

Natively, most people do not judge favorably. Here is a good incentive: HaRav Yehoshua Leib Diskin assures a money back guarantee that if you judge favorably, you will never, ever sin in the realm of lashon hara.

Shabbat Shalom!




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