It was a number of years ago and we were on a Sunday outing with our kids. After biking around some ocean-side trails, we climbed some small rocks to sit and admire the view. While relaxing there, a woman came huffing and puffing up the hill (even hill is putting it a little strongly!). Glaring at my husband, she said, “Well aren’t you going to get up and help me?” He was a little startled by the vehemence in her voice but she seemed in need of assistance so he began to get up to comply.

He was stopped by some noise behind him. There was another man, a few rocks behind us, hidden from our view, who was also responding to the woman’s call for help. The difference was that he seemed to know her! My husband slowly and slightly self-consciously sat back down as we watch the woman’s husband assist her.

We laugh about it now but for that brief moment of confusion, we were really appalled by the chutzpah of someone who would yell at a stranger like that! Now you could argue that we should also be appalled by someone who would yell at her husband like that and you would be of course correct but that is a separate issue. What struck me here was how quick we are to judge. Yes, we glanced around but we didn’t look carefully and after just a cursory examination, we assumed this woman addressing us was a very rude person.

Now again, it’s possible her husband also thinks she’s a very rude person but that’s not my point. My point is that it’s so easy to judge, that we leap to conclusions so quickly, without all the facts.

When preparing for the recent High Holidays, I was reminded of the Torah principle that the Almighty judges us the way we judge others. If we are compassionate, He will be compassionate with us. If we are patient, He will be patient with us. If we are forgiving, He will be forgiving of us. And if we judge others favorably, He will judge us favorably. Of course the reverse is also true, God forbid.

It is SO easy to assume negative motivations on the part of other human beings. It is so easy to take their actions or their words personally. It is so easy to be hurt – and to be unforgiving. And it is so easy to be wrong.

Although this story happened many years ago, we have never forgotten. One reason is because it is so unusual and we were so taken aback by the experience. But the other is because of the learning opportunity embedded therein. It seemed so obvious she was talking to my husband. We didn’t see anyone else and yet she wasn’t. We had completely misjudged her (if not her tone, at least her intent).

And she was a stranger, someone we had no prior experience with. But how often do we do this with people we love? With people we trust? With people who deserve better?

We make excuses – it’s our ego, our insecurity, the way they said it, our past experience – but in the end there is no justification. And if we don’t judge favorably we end up sowing the seeds of baseless hatred and resentment. I’m grateful when the lessons I have to learn are taught in such a humorous fashion and I’m grateful for the reminder and for the hint of self-interest. I certainly want the Almighty to judge me favorably so I’m going to up my game in how I judge others.