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Not for the Naive

By: Mrs. Rina Zinkin


[The ideas below are from a recent shiur that I attended, given by Mrs. Dina Schoonmaker.]

We now find ourselves at the spiritual station of sefirat haomer, as we try to improve ourselves to reach a level where we will be ready for Kabalat HaTorah on Shavuot. When Klal Yisrael arrived at Midbar Sinai, where they would soon receive the Torah, the pasuk says: “Vayichan sham Yisrael neged hahar.” (Shemos 19:2) Rashi points out that the Torah’s usual choice of words is “Vayachanu” (in the plural tense) to describe the encampments of Bnei Yisrael, but here, “Vayichan”( the singular tense) is used to indicate that at this encampment  Bnei Yisrael were united. Rashi says that they were “k'ish echad, b’lev echad.”

What can we do now to create the “vayechan?” What can we do to increase achdut in Klal Yisrael?

Women are endowed with the gift of bina yetaira - extra bina. Bina is the ability to have extra clarity into people and situations, the ability to notice things and to have a feeling about things. What can come with the territory of possessing bina yetaira, can be that a person becomes hypercritical of others and notices faults or weaknesses in others. We must use our gift of bina well- using our extra dose of clarity to help those around us. We must not allow ourselves to misuse our gift of bina and be overly critical of others.

One way to stop being critical of others is to practice judging people favorably. In Pirkei Avos,  perek 1: mishna 6, we read: “Yehoshua ben Perachya omer: Asey lecha rav, u’kinay lecha chaver,v’hevay  dan et kol  ha’adam  lechaf zechut”. Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsh explains that we are allowed to choose our Rav, and we are encouraged to choose our friends. However, there are those whom we decided not to be our Rav and not to be our friends, and it is to those people - our outer circle - that “hevay dan et kol ha’adam lchaf zechut” applies. The Be’er Avos explains the mishna differently, teaching us that the “hevay dan et kol ha’adam lchaf zechus” applies to our Rav who we chose and our friends whom we chose, teaching us to not be overly critical of our inner circle - of those closest to us. The Yismach Moshe teaches that this mishna provides us with one of the tools to maintain good relationships - do not be critical - judge favorably!

Rav Tzvi Meyer, a tzadik in Yerushalayim today, wrote a sefer on the topic of judging others favorably. In his sefer, he gives advice on how to react when we notice weaknesses in other people. When we notice someone acting, speaking, or dressing in a way that we would not, and we find ourselves thinking; “How could she act that way, say that, or wear that…,” we should respond by feeling sorry that we noticed that. We should feel bad and look away. We can remind ourselves that we also have weaknesses and would not want them to be exposed. Our energy should move from being condescending of others towards understanding human vulnerability. I should not be critical, but rather humbled and loving. I should “l’hitpael” - be inspired by the strengths that this person does possess and focus on something positive about her, and “l’hitpallel”- daven for her to have the strength to overcome her weaknesses. Rav Tzvi Meyer also explains that sometimes we think of the mitzvah of “Dan lechaf zechut” as a mitzvah for the naive. But this is far from true! It takes a lot of sophisticated mental control to witness something and change the way we think of the situation.

Rav Tzvi Meyer describes that if one goes to a museum and wants to appreciate a work of art, one should stand back and take in the whole painting. If one wants to appreciate the artwork, she should not take a magnifying glass and look for imperfections. So too, if we find ourselves being hypercritical of people, we are probably honing in on details. Each Jew is a beautiful masterpiece, a work of art. We must stop being critical and stop focusing on people’s weaknesses. We must take a step back, look at people with an ayin tova, and try to appreciate each Jew.

May we be zocheh to internalize these ideas; to decrease being critical of others and increase our love towards all Jews. With our increased feelings of achdut, may we merit to truly be mekabel the Torah this Shavuot.

Shabbat Shalom





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