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Pinchas 5776

Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1 )

by Kalman Packouz

GOOD MORNING!  Once I was speaking to my son about the importance of judging people favorably. I quoted to him from Pirke Avos, Ethics of the Fathers 1:6 "Judge every person to the side of merit." I explained that often we don't know the whole story -- as our Sages tell us in Pirke Avos 2:4 "Don't judge a person until you have stood in his place." Seeing that the idea needed further clarification, I told him "The American Indians had a similar saying, 'Don't judge a person until you've walked a mile in his moccasins.' " All of a sudden my son got very excited, "That's genius! That's brilliant!" Surprised by his enthusiasm, I asked him "Why?" He responded, "Because ... then you're a mile away ... and you have his shoes!"

It is part of human makeup that we see things from our point of view and that we are quick to judge others according to our standards. "If I were him, I wouldn't have done that!" How often have you made that statement? I often remind myself -- and others -- that it isn't true. If you had his genes, his upbringing, his education, his life experiences then you would do EXACTLY what he did. The proof? That's what he did! We wouldn't do it because our life experience, education, psychological and genetic makeup are different than his.

We have a tendency to be righteous and self-righteous. If you walk down the street and ask random people, "Are you a good person?" almost every single one will say "Yes!" Even Adolph Hitler, may his memory and name be erased, thought that he was a good man! His proof? While he was sending off millions to the death camps, he was setting up societies to take care of our pets.

If you find someone who says "No, I am not a good person" more than likely he's more morally sensitive regarding his actions. He knows what his intentions really were and he knows how much more he could have done. Sure, he took out the garbage when his mother asked, but he grumbled under his breath!

The Midrash (an allegorical commentary on the Torah) gives us an insight on how we judge others from the story of Noah. Before Noah sent out the dove which brought back the olive branch, he sent out a raven. However, the raven refused the mission and kept circling the ark. Why? The Midrash tells us that the raven suspected Noah of sending the raven away in order to take the raven's wife. Does this make sense? Noah was the one person righteous enough for the world to be saved. How could the raven possibly suspect him?

The raven didn't suspect Noah per se, it just figured that if it was in Noah's position, that is what it would do. The Midrash is teaching us that we tend to judge other people according to our own values. In modern idiom: When you point a finger at someone, realize that there are three fingers pointing back at you.

The Torah has a positive commandment to judge people favorably, "You shall judge your fellow man with righteousness" (Leviticus 19:15). This verse obligates us to give someone the benefit of the doubt when we see him performing an action that could be interpreted either positively or negatively (Rambam, Sefer Hamitzvos, Positive Commandment 177; Sefer HaChinuch 235).

Here is a brief guideline regarding giving the benefit of the doubt from Love Your Neighbor by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin: In general, if the likelihood of a favorable judgment and unfavorable judgment are equal, give the benefit of the doubt; if the person is an evil person (defined as one who persists in evil conduct in spite of all warnings and chastisements), don't give the benefit of the doubt. For a righteous person, give the benefit of the doubt even if it appears that the action was improper.

Even when you must mentally judge people favorably, you should be on your guard to protect yourself or someone else from a loss. If you can clarify the matter, it is proper to correct the person if he has erred. If you mistakenly suspect an innocent person of doing wrong, you are obligated to appease him and give him a blessing (Talmud Bavli, Brochos 31b).

There are many names and idioms used for the Almighty. One is the "shadow." Why? Just like a shadow makes every movement that a person does, the Almighty judges us in the manner that we judge others. Therefore, it is in our own best interest to judge others favorably -- even if we could be a mile away ... and have their shoes!


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Torah Portion of the week

Pinchas, Numbers 25:10 - 30:1

In last week's Torah portion, Pinchas acted to stop a public display of immorality. He thus stemmed the plague of retribution which was killing the multitudes. He is rewarded by being made a Cohen -- by Divine decree.

The Almighty commands Moshe to attack the Midianites in retribution for the licentious plot the Midianites perpetrated upon the Israelites. A new census is taken of the Jewish people revealing that there are 601,730 men available for army duty. God directs the division of the Land of Israel amongst the tribes. The Levites are tallied. The daughters of Tzelafchad come forward to petition Moshe regarding their right of inheritance. Moshe inquires of the Almighty Who answers in their favor.

Moshe asks the Almighty to appoint a successor and the Almighty directs Moshe to designate Yehoshua (Joshua). The Torah portion concludes with the various offerings -- daily, Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh and holidays.

* * *

Dvar Torah
based on Love Your Neighbor by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

When Moshe was told that he was about to die, he said to God:

"Let God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation" (Numbers 17:16).

The Midrash elaborates and tells us that Moshe requested of the Almighty, "You know that the mind of one individual is not similar to that of another. Appoint a leader over the congregation who will be able to deal with every individual according to his mind" (Bamidbar Rabbah 21:15 cited by Rashi).

Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz commented that while a public speaker might play a major role in influencing others, he is not a true leader. A true leader is one who understands every person individually and deals with each one accordingly.

The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 21:2) states regarding this verse: "Just as the facial features of people are different, so too are their faculties of thought." For this reason, Moshe requested that God choose a leader who would be capable of dealing with every person according to his individual mentality.

Rav Mendel Kotzker understood that we can learn a lesson from this Midrash to avoid feuds and fights over differing opinions. By realizing that just as no one is ever disturbed by the fact that others do not have his exact facial features, we can appreciate and accept that no two people will ever agree on all matters.


Pirke Avos on Judging

1:1  Be cautious in judgment
1:6  Judge every person to the side of merit
1:8 (and 4:5)  When sitting in judgment do not act as an advocate
2:4  Do not judge your fellow until you have stood in his place
4:7  One who refrains from serving as a judge avoids hatred, thievery and false oaths. One who frivolously hands down rulings is a fool, wicked and arrogant.
4:8  Do not judge on your own, for there is none qualified to judge alone, only the One.


Candle Lighting Times

July 29
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Jerusalem 7:02
Guatemala 6:14 - Hong Kong 6:48 - Honolulu 6:54
J'Burg 5:22 - London 8:35 - Los Angeles 7:38
Melbourne 5:13 - Mexico City 7:56 - Miami 7:50
New York 7:56 - Singapore 6:58 - Toronto 8:25

Quote of the Week

Love people for what they are;
don't judge them for what they're not



Happy Anniversary!

Alvin & Evelyn Brown

In Loving Memory of

Phillip T. Warren

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