Tag Archives: judging

Working Together

And we are human, after all. Our humanly unique sense of self is partially framed and reinforced by our awareness of that self in relation to others. It’s only human nature to hope you might be in some way “better” than others — smarter, possessing of higher status, more resources, and greater physical attractiveness — even if that’s not always the case. From there, it’s only a short step toward actively seeking out the more negative aspects of others to feel better by comparison. And once we’ve begun to indulge in those self-gratifying judgments, it’s hard to stop. How else can you explain American’s fascination with reality TV? Next to Honey Boo-Boo and the Duggars, we all look pretty good, right?

Wrong.

Research has also shown that people who seek out and comment upon negative traits and behaviors in others are often highly anxious about those very same traits in themselves.

-Leslie Turnbull
from the article “Don’t Judge Me”
The Week

bullyingAccording to this magazine story based, supposedly, on research, it’s natural for human beings to be judgmental, it just makes us unhappy. I suppose that might mean that it’s not natural for a person to give the other guy or gal the benefit of the doubt and to judge them favorably.

However, in Judaism, it is considered desirable to judge others favorably:

Joshua the son of Perachia and Nitai the Arbelite received from them. Joshua the son of Perachia would say: Assume for yourself a master, acquire for yourself a friend, and judge every man to the side of merit (emph. mine).

Pirkei Avot 1:6

Now let’s expand our information base to include the Apostolic Scriptures, which also, I believe, qualifies as Jewish wisdom.

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

Philippians 2:3-4 (NASB)

Also…

But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

James 3:14-18

James (Jacob or Ya’akov), the brother of Rav Yeshua (Jesus), writes that jealousy, selfish ambition, and arrogance are also natural for human beings, and he calls these qualities “earthly, natural, demonic.”

Not a pretty picture.

He advocates for behaving gently, reasonably, and treating others with mercy.

The Jewish PaulAs students of the teachings of Yeshua as they are interpreted for the Gentiles by the Apostle Paul (Rav Shaul), we really need to be different from the world, behaving “unnaturally”, and as a “light to the nations” (Matthew 5:14-16).

Maybe it’s “natural” for us to be snarky and unkind to others, but as Ms. Turnbull’s article points out, we may complain the most about people who are the most like us.

So the next time you feel the urge to snark about the way your brother-in-law tries to dominate every conversation, spend a few minutes listening to yourself. You might just realize it’s time for you to pipe down, too.

Further…

Need more reason to curtail that instinct to be a hater? Consider this: Unjust criticism may be hurtful to others , but it hurts those who over-indulge in it even more. Just as those who spend a lot of time in the water fixate on the extremely rare shark attack while ignoring the much more prevalent (but still almost non-existent) threat of lightning on land, folks who over-focus on negativity will eventually only see what they spend time thinking about: the bad stuff.

So being judgmental and negative not only hurts us, it hurts other people, and our teachers, as we read them in the Bible, instruct us to not hurt others, but rather, to be kind and, as much as it depends on us, to be at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18).

Not particularly common in the blogosphere, even in the religious blogosphere.

I’m not writing to lean on anyone or masking my own criticism toward anyone else, but with all of the verbal and physical violence in the news and social media lately, it seems like there’s no place to go for a bit of peace.

cooperatingBut ideally, we should be able to seek out other disciples in Messiah for that peace, Jew and Gentile alike.

Not only that, but we should be able to work together, for although we represent a diverse population, and there are sometimes significant differences between Jewish and Gentile disciples, we do have something in common:

From the above closing words of the Acts of the Apostles [Acts 28:30-31] we can see that the Kingdom of God was the message that Paul and the other Apostles preached, a message of God’s Kingship in the person and work of Yeshua Messiah. The Bilateral Messianic Community was the body of believers who had accepted the message of the Kingdom of God and were to be the proclaimers of the coming of the Kingdom of God.

-Sean Emslie
“The Kingdom of God and The Messianic Hope: Bilateral Messianic Community and Kingdom in the Epistles and Revelation”
Toward a Messianic Judaism

When did we forget this and how can be get back to what we’re supposed to be doing?

Advertisements

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
Chabad.org

“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

God is in the Backyard

We don’t say a person “will be going to heaven.”
We say this person is “a child of the world to come.”

Heaven is not just somewhere you go.
It is something you carry with you.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Heaven”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

Well, I – I think that it – it wasn’t enough to just want to see Uncle Henry and Auntie Em – and it’s that – if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with! Is that right?

-Dorothy
The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Sometimes I don’t think we know what we want as people or faith. Sometimes I don’t think we know what we have. We are always looking off to the horizon, off to the brightest star in the sky or at the furthest cloud on the wind. We look for God in Heaven and long for the return of Jesus but we forget that we are right here and that God is with us. We forget that we have a job to do here. We forget that God expects us to be His junior partners in repairing a broken world and paving the way for the Messiah’s coming.

Earlier this month, I wrote a blog post called The New Testament is Not in Heaven, the title of which, is a play on the words of the Torah in Deuteronomy 30:12. Here we see Moses giving the Children of Israel his final, impassioned speech before he proceeds to his own death and sends the nation of Israel across the Jordan and into war without his leadership.

The Torah is not in Heaven. What does this mean except that what we need from God is not far from us at all. What we have, as Rabbi Freeman tells us, is what we carry with us. Dorothy too tells us that if we think we are missing something, it isn’t missing at all. It’s as close as our “own back yard.” Why do we pretend that God is distant and His will is far away?

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” –Matthew 22:36-40

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? –Micah 6:8

I’ve written about all this before, using the same scriptures and perhaps even repeating some of what I’ve written for today. Yet those who claim the cause of Christ still look far away for God, still think He can be captured in a list of “dos” and “don’ts”, still think it is pagan to want to feed the hungry rather than condemn a fir tree decorated with lights. Perhaps for those who pursue a spirit of disdain, God is far away. How can we ever share the good news of Christ while we’re spilling out the darkness in our hearts and calling it light?

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? –Matthew 7:3

Take the plank out of your eye and start looking for God. I think he’s in the backyard near the flower bed.

The Side of Merit

Judge NotJudge every man to the side of merit.

Ethics of our Fathers 1:6

On the most elementary level, this means that if you discern a negative trait in your fellow or you see him commit a negative act, do not judge him guilty in your heart. “Do not judge your fellow until you are in his place,” warns another of the Ethics’ sayings, and his place is one place where you will never be. You have no way of truly appreciating the manner in which his inborn nature, his background or the circumstances that hold sway over his life have influenced his character and behavior.

However, this only explains why you should not judge your fellow guilty. Yet our Mishnah goes further than this, enjoining us to “judge every man to the side of merit.” This implies that we should see our fellow’s deficiencies in a positive light. But what positive element is implied by a person’s shortcomings and misdeeds?

Commentary on Ethics of Our Fathers
“Double Standard”
Tammuz 18, 5771 * July 20, 2011
Chabad.org

The character traits of strength and firmness evoke mixed responses. On one hand, everyone admires personal fortitude, and respects an individual who has the courage to persevere in his convictions despite challenges. And yet a strong person can also be thought of as rigid and insensitive, clinging stubbornly to his own views without bending in consideration of others. Counseling against this tendency, our Sages commented, (Taanis 20a) “A person should always be pliant like a reed, and not hard like a cedar.”

Commentary on Torah Portion Matot
“True Strength”
-Rabbi Eli Touger

The world of religion is terribly judgmental. To be fair, this is a human trait and not just one seen among people of faith. While secular people tend to blame religion for all the world’s ills (war, racism, poverty, and so forth) is it rather our human nature and our tendency toward selfishness and evil that lets us corrupt the values of God into something that harms people.

In Christianity we are taught, “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matthew 7:1 [KJV]), but that certainly hasn’t stopped many in the church from judging others, both within the congregation and in the non-believing world. Is this any way to show the world the love of Jesus Christ?

Despite what I’ve quoted above, Judaism is also populated by human beings and thus, Jewish people aren’t perfect. They have a capacity equal to any Christian to judge others and to assign unfair blame and ridicule. Asher at the Lev Echad blog is on something of a mission to try and turn the hearts of Jews toward each other and to heal the differences between them. Recently, he published a plea asking Jews to not judge each other for their differences in religious practices and lifestyle but rather to guide “others into a life of serving God and His children in a way that best matches their individual personality”.

Asher’s words can easily be applied to the rest of us, both in their practicality and in their need.

Returning to the example of the Ethics of Our Fathers from which I quoted above, we see in the commentary that we must not only treat our fellows fairly and as we want to be treated, but we should extend ourselves to give others the benefit of the doubt, while at the same time, looking at our own deeds without compromise:

So judge every man to the side of merit—every man, that is, except yourself. For the attitude detailed above, while appropriate to adopt towards other human beings, would be nothing less than disastrous if applied to oneself.

“True, I have done nothing with my life,” the potential-looking individual will argue. “But look at what I am capable of! Look at the quality of my mind, the sensitivity of my feelings, the tremendous talents I possess. It’s all there within me, regardless of the fact that I have never bothered to realize any of it. This is the real me. The extent to which I actualize it is only of secondary importance.”

In our judgement of human life and achievement, we must adapt a double standard. Our assessment of a fellow human being must always look beyond the actual to the potential reality within. On the other hand, we must measure our own worth in terms of our real and concrete achievements, and view the potential in ourselves as merely the means to this end.

FriendsChristianity has parallel teachings to these Talmudic gems:

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. –Matthew 7:3-5

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. –Matthew 18:21-22

At the core of all these lessons is the Torah itself and the Master’s commentary on the “Torah” that both Jews and Christians can embrace:

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” –Mark 12:28-31

I specifically say this is a “Torah”, because Jesus is quoting from both Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18, so the heart of Christianity was born in Judaism and if we are wise, we will not separate the branches from the vine (see John 15:5 and Romans 11:11-24).

Rabbi Touger’s commentary on Matos describes two symbols of leadership over the twelve tribes of Israel. The authority of a tribal head is symbolized by both a staff and a rod. They sound the same but are wholly different from one another:

What is the difference between these two terms? A rod is supple, able to be bent, while a staff is firm and unyielding. For a rod is freshly cut or still connected to the tree from which it grew and is therefore pliant. A staff, by contrast, has been detached from its tree long ago, and over time has become dry, hard, and firm.

Both terms serve as analogies for different levels in the expression of our souls’ potential. (See Sefer Maamarei Admur HaZakein 5562, Vol. I, p. 237ff.) The term “rod” refers to the soul as it exists in the spiritual realms, where its connection to G-dliness is palpably appreciated. It shares an active bond with the lifegiving, spiritual nurture it receives. “Staff,” by contrast, refers to the soul as it exists in our material world, enclothed in a physical body. On the conscious level, it has been severed from its spiritual source, and its connection to G-dliness is no longer felt.

In this setting, there is the possibility for both the positive and the negative types of strength and hardness. There is a tendency towards spiritual insensitivity, a brittle lack of responsiveness to the G-dliness invested within creation.

Tree of LifeTying this back to the analysis of Pirkei Avot 1:6, we see that we should be a “rod” when dealing with others but a “staff” when judging ourselves.

A rod and a staff have a common source and the difference is how long each one has been separated from the tree. It is said that the Torah is a “tree of life for those who hold fast to her” (Ethics of Our Fathers 6:7). Given the Torah source of both Jewish and Christian commentaries on compassion toward others, not the least of which is the teaching of the Master, how can we not take hold of that tree and cling fast to her in our relationships with others and with God?

Rabbi Chananiah the son of Akashiah would say: G-d desired to merit the people of Israel; therefore, He gave them Torah and mitzvot in abundance. As is stated, “G-d desired, for sake of his righteousness, that Torah be magnified and made glorious.” –Makot, 3:16