Wednesday, August 5, 2020 -
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Masters of the courtroom


In 2018 in Denver, on the Shabbos between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Rabbi Steven Weil delivered a lecture on repentance, as is customary between the two High Holidays.

I was impressed.

Rabbi Weil spoke about one of the 24 impediments to repentance delineated by Maimonides, specifically, the impediment of making judgments about people, choshed ba-kesherim.

This is my memory of Rabbi Weil’s talk:

Choshed ba-kesherim: “Harboring unwarranted judgments about people.”

We are all judges.

Masters of the courtroom.

The courtroom of our own mind.

Typically, “innocent until proven guilty” is the rule in the courtroom.

But not in our courtroom.

There, we are the judge, and also the jury, the witness and the prison warden.

Very few come out innocent from our courtroom.

We look around at the defendants we summon to our courtroom.

This one — why does she wear clothes like that?

That one — how did he make his money, anyway?

So it flows in our courtroom:

Where did Simon go on vacation this year?

Why does Reuben drive that kind of car?

Who is Levi’s wife tight with?

Why wasn’t Leah invited to the wedding?

How come Sarah’s son got the award at school — Rachel’s son was so much more deserving!

We are the judge, and our courtroom is always busy. We can’t even wait until one trial is finished before beginning the next one.

That is what Maimonides means when he says that a person who is choshed ba-kesherim, who is constantly suspecting people of this or that, even if they are only minor offenses, is blocked from repentance, from “doing teshuvah.”

But we have a spontaneous defense: We did not say a word. Not one word of leshon ha-ra — gossip or tale bearing — escaped our mouths. We didn’t share our judgments with a soul. Not even with our spouse! Our hands are clean. Maimonides has no claim on us.


Not so.

When you are choshed ba-kesherim, even if you say nothing, your teshuvah, your repentance, is blocked.

Because when you have to make even an inner judgment about people you know or hear about, you are playing G-d.

But the thing is, the only judge is G-d.

Not us.

When we play judge in the courtroom of our mind, we play G-d.

We might say that by being a judge — the master of the courtroom in our own mind — we show how insecure we are. That is why we evaluate the activities, the looks, the successes, the failures, the styles, of other people. However in need of correction our insecurity might be, it is not the main blockage to repentance by a person who harbors unwarranted judgments of other people.

The main point is a philosophical one: G-d is the only judge.

We cannot return to G-d — cannot repent, cannot do teshuvah — when we play G-d.

It is a spiritual contradiction.

That is Maimonides’ point. This is what he saying.

A person who is steeped in making judgments of others, even if never sharing his verdicts with a soul, faces a very steep climb in attempting to do teshuvah.

That is why the solution, as with all the 24 impediments to teshuvah, is not to get started in the first place.

Cancel all thoughts of conducting your own courtroom.

Close it down.

Holy thoughts, positive goals, daily responsibilities at work, at home and in the community — let these occupy your mind.

If you just cannot prevent judgments about others from popping into your mind, this is understandable. It is tough to control what pops into your mind. But when it happens, keep in mind:

Innocent until proven guilty.

Then, move on to the teshuvah that you must, and can, do.

Copyright © 2019 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Hillel Goldberg

IJN Executive Editor |

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