Pirkei Avot, “Ethics of the Fathers,” states in chapter 6:6: “The Torah is acquired in 48 ways.” This week: Way #38, “Judging others favorably.”
Having apologized for showing up late at my appointment, the appointment is reset. As I walk in late again, I am berated before I can even open my mouth.
Just before the second appointment, I received devastating news: My father has a terminal illness, with three months to live.
There is no need to judge someone favorably other than when the person appears to be inconsiderate or incompetent.
To judge others favorably is to acquire the Torah, since the Torah acknowledges nuances in human behavior. It acknowledges ideals and failures — and ambiguities. It acknowledges negative motives behind evidently altruistic behavior, and idealistic motives behind flawed behavior. To judge others favorably is to sensitize oneself to what lies beneath the surface. Not all is as it may seem. By judging other favorably, I open myself up to unexpected explanations of atypical behavior. I allow myself to see something behind the obvious.
The Torah invites this examination of the unexpected. Why did Rebeccah almost never speak to her husband Isaac? Why are some commandments rational (do not murder) and some not (do not eat pork)? What is G-d’s oneness (Hear O Israel, the L-rd our G-d, the L-rd is one)?
A certain mindset looks beneath the surface of the Torah. To judge others favorably is to foster that mindset.
The 38th way to acquire the Torah: Judging Others Favorably.
- Way #1, Study;
- Way #2, Listen;
- Way #3, Articulate Speech;
- Way #4, Understanding of the Heart;
- Way #5, An Intelligent Heart;
- Way #6, Awe;
- Way #7, Fear;
- Way #8, Humility;
- Way #9a, Joy;
- Way #9b, Purity;
- Way #10, Serving the Sages;
- Way #11, Interaction with colleagues;
- Way #12, Exchanges with students;
- Way #13, Deliberation;
- Way #14, Scripture;
- Way #15a, Mishnah;
- Way #15b, Limited Business Activity;
- Way #16a, Limited Marital Relations;
- Way #16b, Portion Control;
- Way #17, Limited Pleasure;
- Way #18, All nighters;
- Way #19, Limited Conversation;
- Way #20, Limited Entertainment;
- Way #21, Slowness to anger;
- Way #22, A good heart;
- Way #23, Faith in the sages;
- Way #24, Acceptance of suffering;
- Way #25, Knowing one’s place;
- Way #26, Happiness with one’s lot;
- Way #27, Have a filter;
- Way #28, Claim no credit;
- Way #29, Being beloved;
- Way #30, Loving the Omnipresent;
- Way #31, Loving G-d’s creatures;
- Way #31b, Loving acts of charity;
- Way #32, Loving reproof;
- Way #33, Loving integrity;
- Way #34, Shunning honors;
- Way #35, Loving integrity;
- Way #36, Taking no joy from issuing halachic rulings;
- Way #37, Sharing another person’s burden