Passing Judgment

Said Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov:

When a person comes before the supernal court to account for sojourn on earth, he is first asked to voice his opinion on another life. “What do you think,” he is asked, “about one who has done so and so?” After he offers his verdict, it is demonstrated to him how these deeds and circumstances parallel those of his own life. Ultimately, it is the person himself who passes judgment on his own failings and achievements.

This explains the peculiar wording of the above passage of the Ethics, “before whom you are destined to give a judgment and accounting.” Is not the verdict handed down after the cross-examination of the defendant? So should not the “judgment” follow the “accounting”? And why are you destined to “give judgment” as opposed to being judged? But no judgment is ever passed on a person from above. Only after he has himself ruled on any given deed does the heavenly court make him account for a matching episode in his own life.

The same idea is also implicit in another passage in our chapter of the Ethics: “Retribution is extracted from a person, with his knowledge and without his knowledge.” As a person knowingly expresses his opinion on a certain matter, he is unwittingly passing judgment on himself.

Commentary on Ethics of Our Fathers
Chapter 3
“Subjective Judge”
Iyar 10, 5772 * May 2, 2012

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.”

Matthew 25:31-33 (ESV)

I don’t think many Christians believe they’ll be given the opportunity to judge themselves in Messianic days, but then most Christians think they won’t be judged at all. Only sinners (i.e. non-Christians) will be judged. Christians are saved and exempt from all this sort of stuff.

Whew! What a relief.

But wait a minute. What else did Jesus say?

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” –Matthew 25:34-46 (ESV)

Now that’s odd. It sounds like we aren’t judged based on what we believe in our hearts but on what we actually do with that belief. The Master’s own brother said, “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” If faith without works is dead, then if we are without works, regardless of what we feel or believe inside, are we dead, too?

I’m not really going to try to evaluate the mechanics of how salvation works or who does or doesn’t merit a place in the world to come (i.e. “Heaven” as Christianity understands it). I do want to talk about the times when you judge other people.

C’mon. Admit it. You do judge other people, dear Christian friends. So do I, though I’m not saying that out of any sense of pride. Think of the guy or gal who cut you off in traffic yesterday when you were driving to work. Didn’t you, even in the privacy of your own thoughts and emotions, momentarily “judge” that person and their relative driving skills? Any time you become angry at another person, don’t you judge them in terms of their worthiness or some other attribute they possess or lack? If you’re a football fan, when your favorite quarterback fumbles what should have been your team’s winning play, don’t you judge that knucklehea…uh, player for his failure to lead his team to victory?

Do you want to be judged by the same standards you use to judge others?

and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors. –Matthew 6:12 (ESV)

I’ve mentioned this particularly telling part of the Lord’s Prayer before. It certainly seems like Jesus is saying that we will be forgiven in direct relation to how we forgive others.

Oh certainly, Jesus couldn’t have meant anything like that! Oh yeah?

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” –Matthew 18:23-35 (ESV)

Oh wow! Apparently, he did.

Now look back at the commentary for chapter 3 of Ethics of the Fathers. Imagine that’s how you’ll actually be judged; by how you judge others. Now imagine that if you show mercy to others to such and thus degree, God will show you the same mercy. But if you show such and thus judgement toward others, God will judge you to the same degree. When you judge, you’re looking in a mirror.

Imagine you have control over how your life will be judged. Imagine you can determine how harsh or how merciful God will treat you at the end of your days. Imagine how you forgive or condemn one human being today will affect how God judges you tomorrow. Imagine.

A gentile once came to Shammai, and wanted to convert to Judaism. But he insisted on learning the whole Torah while standing on one foot. Shammai rejected him, so he went to Hillel, who taught him: “What you dislike, do not do to your friend. That is the basis of the Torah. The rest is commentary; go and learn!”

-Rabbi Hillel

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