I hate to admit this publicly, but I am a cynic. I am not sure if it is nature or nurture, but for some reason, I am quick to ascribe underlying motives to many aspects of human behavior, some of them negative. When I see someone do something, engaged in one action or another, often, my default button is to try to discern his or her motive for doing that thing.
While on the one hand, it is important to try gleaning a full picture of people’s motivations for what they do, on the other hand, it takes away from one’s temimus. Temimus, believing in the innate goodness of people and their declared motives, is not a bad thing.
I have noticed, however, that this lack of temimus doesn’t promote happiness. In fact, it takes away from simchas hachaim. Instead of looking at things with an ayin tovah, a good and benevolent eye, the opposite is often the case.
In addition to the fact that one’s perception of the underlying motives of another may be misguided or wrong, it also makes for an unhappy person. If one sees everyone through the lens of “What is his/her real motive for behaving this way? How is he/she ‘working on me’ so I should think X about them when the reality is Y?” it also makes a person constantly harp on the negative or nefarious motivations in the human condition rather than the positive ones.
This often leads us to make ourselves judges regarding others. Every time we look at a person, and certainly when we analyze their motives, we are being shoftim, judges.
Now, let’s take this a step further. Would you like others to constantly be judging you? Would you like others to think of you in that vein? That everything you do is calculated coldly in an often-nefarious way in order to achieve some objective?
Furthermore, would any of us want Hashem to look at us in this way?
This time of the year is the time of mishpot, of judging, when Hashem judges us, so it would be prudent to analyze the way we judge people.
The Key to Divine Mercy
I saw something absolutely remarkable written by the Kedushas Levi, Rav Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev, in Parshas Shoftim, that I felt obligated to share with my distinguished readers as Rosh Hashanah is upon us. He says, “In His abundance of mercy and kindness, Hashem judges Knesses Yisroel on the day of judgment. Still, it is incumbent on us, down here, to do something to arouse Hashem’s mercy on High.”
The Kedushas Levi continues by explaining what we can do to arouse Hashem’s mercy at the time that He is judging us. “If down here we invoke and arouse our own middos of mercy and kindness by looking favorably, so too, in Heaven, they will look favorably not only on that person but on every Yid!”
He explains that by judging others in our orbit favorably, we are, so to speak, causing Hashem to judge the entire nation with a misphat tzedek, a righteous judgment.
The Berditchever, the quintessential melamed zechus, is telling us that if we will be melamed zechus on others, if we will just put away our cynicism and “realism” and try to look at others with a benevolent eye, ascribing favorable motives to their conduct, we will have the key to Divine mercy on all of Klal Yisroel in our hands.
Now, if you are a bit of a cynic such as I am, you might ask a most simple question: What does it help if I look at the motives of others favorably? Either way you look at it, one thing is certain: Hashem knows the motives of others. He knows whether this person who I have doubts about has nefarious motives. So what is the difference if I judge him favorably or not? After all, Hashem knows either way.
Our Ability to “Tip the Scales”
The Tiferes Shlomo (Avos 1-6) answers this question with a mind-boggling answer that shows us the power that we wield with our mouths and minds. He says, based on the Zohar, that a Yid, with his power of speech, has the power to actually tip the Divine scales, both for the good and chalilah for the bad.
He explains, “Even though Hashem knows if someone did something terrible, when a Yid down here says something favorable about the sinner, Hashem above will look to find a zechus for that Yid to mitigate the aveirah he did. Conversely, if a Yid is melamed chov, if he looks and talks negatively about something that another did, he will cause for Hashem to also judge that person unfavorably.” He continues that even though everything is known to Hashem, the malachim Hashem appoints to carry out His judgment will work so much quicker based on what people down here in the world say and even think.
The Tiferes Shlomo goes on to say that a person’s negative words, or even a negative face without saying even one word, has an impact on how Hashem carries out His judgment. When a person does an aveirah hidden from others and no one knows about it or talks about it, Hashem’s middas hadin is not as harsh as one that is seen and known by others.
The Sefas Emes adds that when the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos states that one should judge “es kol ha’adam,” the entire person, “lekaf zechus,” favorably, it means that even if someone does something wrong, you should try to look at the whole person – at his good qualities and the good things that he does, so that it will give you some balance.
The Inestimable Value of a Dor Yasom’s Actions
Let me conclude with the powerful words of Rav Tzadok Hakohein of Lublin (Pri Tzaddik, Ki Savo). He says, “We live in a dor yasom, a generation in which it is so hard to serve Hashem properly, when we are so far removed from any elevated madreigos of avodas Hashem that were present in times gone by.”
And this was written more than 100 years ago!
He concludes, “Because we live in such a difficult generation, every tiny action that we do for Hashem has special chashivus, special importance. Why? In previous generations, they understood more about Hashem; they realized the magnitude of what serving Hashem was. We however, live in a dor yasom. Our understanding is so limited. Nevertheless, we still serve Hashem. This has the power to invoke so much rachmei Shomayim!”
So, my dear friends, now that we are at the end of what has been a most difficult year, a year of hester ponim, a year of mageifah, a year of great loss, great upheaval, great anxiety and trepidation, we can only daven with all of our heart and our soul that every tefillah that we daven should be so important to Hashem because it is coming from us, who live in such a dor yasom. Every minute of limud haTorah should be deeply cherished by Hashem because it comes through overcoming such adversity, the adversity that we experience as a dor yasom.
Every time we overcome the powerful pull of the yeitzer hara, the new and constantly evolving nisyonos that he puts forth to try uprooting every last vestige of ruchniyus that we have, Hashem should look favorably upon us, and please, let it be tichleh shanah vekileloseha, may this year and its curses end, and may we be zoche to tochel shanah ubirchoseha, may the new year begin with only brocha and hatzlacha for all of us.
A personal note:
Writing a column that deals with current events and social commentary about what is going on in our collective communities is a sakanah. It is dangerous, because often one can unknowingly and sometimes even knowingly offend readers, embarrass people, and make them feel bad. I want to apologize to anyone who was offended by anything that I wrote and ask them to please judge this (hopefully reformed) cynic favorably. Kesivah vachasimah tovah.