GOOD MORNING! What do you think the chances are of getting back a bag you left in the back seat of a taxi -- with $80,000 in it? Probably you wouldn't give very good odds. One might think that most people are hurting for money -- particularly taxi drivers -- and the temptation would be too great.
This happened in Jerusalem a few years ago. When the driver noticed the bag and what was in it, he decided to immediately go back to the apartment building where he dropped off the passenger in order to return it -- before his desire to keep the money overwhelmed him. But how to return it? The passenger was not outside and there were many floors and too many apartments to knock on every door. So, the driver devised a plan. He would walk the hallway of each floor until he heard uncontrollable sobbing and crying emanating from an apartment. Lo and behold, after walking a few floors, sure enough, he heard people bawling.
You can imagine the joy and relief in seeing the taxi driver and more so, the bag of money! The people were buying an apartment and had to deliver this portion of the payment in dollars. They thought all was lost. They were sure that the driver would keep the money. And boy, were they surprised!
How do we judge people? The Midrash (an allegorical commentary on the Torah) gives us an insight from the story of Noah. Before Noah sent out the dove which brought back the olive branch, he sent out a raven. However, the raven refused the mission and kept circling the ark. Why? The Midrash tells us that the raven suspected Noah of sending the raven away in order to take the raven's wife. Does this make sense? Noah was the one person righteous enough for the world to be saved. How could the raven possibly suspect him?
The raven didn't suspect Noah per se, it just figured that if it was in Noah's position, that is what it would do. The Midrash is teaching us that we tend to judge other people according to our own values. In modern idiom: When you point a finger at someone, realize that there are three fingers pointing back at you.
The Torah commands us to judge people favorably, "You shall judge your fellow man with righteousness" (Leviticus 19:15). This verse obligates us to give someone the benefit of the doubt when we see him performing an action that could be interpreted either positively or negatively (Rambam, Sefer Hamitzvos, Positive Commandment 177; Sefer HaChinuch 235).
Here is a brief and general guideline regarding giving the benefit of the doubt compiled from Love Your Neighbor by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin: In general, if the likelihood of a favorable judgment and unfavorable judgment are equal, give the benefit of the doubt; if the person is an evil person (defined as one who persists in evil conduct in spite of all warnings and chastisements), don't give the benefit of the doubt. For a righteous person, give the benefit of the doubt even if it appears that the action was improper.
Even when you must mentally judge people favorably, you should be on your guard to protect yourself or someone else from a loss. If you can clarify the matter, it is proper to correct the person if he has erred. If you mistakenly suspect an innocent person of doing wrong, you are obligated to appease him and give him a blessing (Talmud Bavli, Brochos 31b).
Judging favorably is not easy. Since I started with the story of Jerusalem taxi driver, I'd like to end with a story of another Jerusalem taxi driver -- and a hat store. In 1979, my friend, Gur Aryeh Herzig, left his black Shabbos hat in the taxi when he arrived in Jerusalem from the airport. Figuring the hat was gone forever, that evening he went to Ferster's Hat Store in Meah She'arim and picked out a new hat to buy. At the cash register, he told the story of the lost hat to the store owner. Want to guess what the store owner's response was?
The owner refused to sell him the hat! "I will put it aside and hold it for you, but I will not sell it to you until you check with the taxi company for the hat. It is not worth selling you the hat and have you think badly of Jerusalem taxi drivers." Gur Aryeh walked to Nesher taxi. They were very happy that he came to pick up his hat which the driver had turned in that afternoon. It may be difficult to judge people favorably, but it is possible!
Torah Portion of the Week
Pharaoh dreams of cows and sheaves and demands for someone to interpret his dreams. The wine butler remembers Joseph's ability to interpret dreams. They bring Joseph from the jail. Pharaoh acknowledges the truth of Joseph's interpretation (that there would be seven good years followed by seven years of famine) and raises Joseph to second-in-command of the whole country with the mandate to prepare for the famine.
Ten of Joseph's brothers come to Egypt to buy food, Joseph recognizes them, but they don't recognize him. Joseph accuses them of being spies and puts them through a series of machinations in order to get them to bring his brother Benjamin to Egypt. Then Joseph frames Benjamin for stealing his special wine goblet.
Next week ... the denouement!
* * *
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Pharaoh likes Joseph's interpretation of his dream and then appoints him to be in charge of Egypt's economy. The Torah states:
"And Pharaoh said to Joseph, 'after the Almighty has informed you of all this, there is no one who is as understanding and wise as you' " (Gen. 41:39).
How could Pharaoh trust Joseph whose resume listed his last two positions as "convict" and "slave"?
Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz, the late head of the Mir Yeshiva, explained that Pharaoh saw Joseph's extreme honesty when Joseph began by saying that he had no power to interpret dreams on his own; that it was entirely a gift from the Almighty. Joseph did not want to take credit even for a moment. This total honesty in one minor point showed that Joseph could be completely trusted.
Note that Pharaoh saw one minor positive point in Joseph's character and extrapolated it to a larger scale. This should be our model in viewing people. Keep finding minor strengths and good qualities in others and then give the person positive feedback. This can help someone build a positive self-image. The more a person sees himself as having positive attributes, the more motivated he will be to utilize those strengths for further growth.
Many people have a tendency to notice minor faults and weaknesses in others and then keep telling them that they have major character problems. More can be accomplished to help people by focusing on the positive than harping on the negative ... especially if they have low self-esteem.
CANDLE LIGHTING - December 23
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QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
Love people for what they are;
don't judge them for what they're not
In Loving Memory of
Jessica, Daniela & Donny
Rabbi Kalman Packouz
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