Shoftim means “Judges” and it was a great gift to society and civilization that a system of courts with rules of evidence was given in the Torah. To be effective, the people must have confidence in the courts and in the honesty, integrity and industry of its judges. Judges are not to take bribes (which can come in many more forms than cash) or show partiality in any way whatsoever.
The rabbis tell us that we must each hold ourselves to that standard in judging others. We must not view our friends more favorably than strangers, the rich more favorably than the poor, not think about what we may have to gain by agreeing with one side or another.
We must give each person the benefit of the doubt. We must assume that perhaps if we had been standing in such other person’s shoes, knowing what they know, experiencing what they experience and understanding what they understand, we might have acted similarly. Perhaps that other person is really doing the best they can or did the best they could.
Rabbi Aaron Bergman likes to say that we tend to judge ourselves by our intentions, but judge others by their actions. Think about that for a moment!
If pointed out to us, we excuse our own errors, faults, insensitivities, indifference and selfishness as completely inadvertent and unintended. Yet, we judge others to have acted with malice aforethought. Even thoughtlessness can be a crime when, in the mind of the victim, the thoughtless should have felt an obligation to be thoughtful. We forgive ourselves, but have a hard time forgiving others. We ask for God’s mercy for ourselves, but strict justice for others.
During this month of Elul, leading to the High Holy Days, let us not be judges of the past or of others at all. Let us look to the future and how we can make ourselves and our relationships better. Rosh Hashanah is less than 30 days away….
This Shabbat we learn with Rabbi Rachel Shere. 9:45 a.m. Come as you are. Stay as long as you like.
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