> Spirituality > Personal Growth

The Prosecutor

May 9, 2009 | by Sara Yoheved Rigler

They're wrong, but are you right?

No doubt about it -- Devorah was wrong. At the end of the lecture I gave for her organization, I expected her to reach into her purse, pull out my check, and hand it to me. Instead she said, "Is it okay if we pay you tomorrow?"

"Tomorrow?" I was disconcerted. I'm used to being paid at the end of a speaking engagement. "That won't be easy," I protested. "I live inside the walls of the Old City. How will you get it to me tomorrow?"

"It's not a problem. We have a driver who does errands for us."

"Okay," I muttered reluctantly. "Tomorrow."

I knew getting the check the next day would be a big hassle. Since the Old City is inaccessible to cars, I would have to trek out to the street and wait for their driver. Devorah's inefficiency would make me waste time -- my pet peeve. Besides, Devorah, an observant Jew, surely knew about the Torah's injunction to "pay the worker at the end of the day" [or at the end of the week or month, if that's the mutually agreed period], and she willfully ignored it.

Sure enough, getting my check the next day cost me six phone calls to Devorah and the driver, a five-minute trek from my house to meet the car, and a 15-minute wait for the driver, who got stuck in traffic. I was miffed, and it was all Devorah's fault.

That night Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller taught her weekly class in my home. Until the moment the class began, I was embroiled in trying to renew my Norton Anti-virus. Symantec's website wouldn't accept my order. The Customer Service rep finally promised that her supervisor would phone me at 10:15 that night.

The class was supposed to end at 10:00, but it went over by ten minutes. Although I always collect the money from the students, this time I handed the collection jar to a friend and hurried into my "office" to receive the call from Symantec. Rebbetzin Heller was still there when I emerged ten minutes later. I walked her out and thanked her for a great class.

Just as she had blown it, so had I.

An hour and a half later, I noticed the collection jar full of money. I had forgotten to give Rebbetzin Heller her payment. I had failed to "pay the worker at the end of the day."

I was mortified. I myself had become guilty of the very act for which I had condemned Devorah!

I realized I was so focused on scrutinizing Devorah's failure to pay me on time that I had failed to scrutinize my own response. I hadn't even bothered to ask myself: What's the right response to her wrong action?

Now it hit me: My response should have been to judge her favorably. Searching for extenuating circumstances would have replaced my critical attitude with a compassionate one. "She single-handedly organized the whole event," I could have told myself. "She had a myriad details to attend to. So she accidentally forgot one item. It could happen to any of us."

Just as she had blown it, so had I.


Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, the 18th century founder of the Mussar Movement, said: "We should worry about our own spiritual lacks and our neighbor's material lacks. But usually we do it the other way around. We worry about our neighbor's spiritual lacks and our own material lacks."

So what's the right response when someone does something wrong?

The Torah gives a number of guidelines:

  1. Judge the person favorably.
  2. Do not speak lashon hara [negative, true speech] about the person.
  3. Do not hate the person in your heart.
  4. Do not carry a grudge and do not take revenge
  5. Give rebuke privately, but only if you can do it with love and make the person feel like s/he was helped rather than criticized.
  6. View what happened as a message from Above to examine your own deeds.

Keeping this list in mind, imagine how differently you would react when someone does something wrong.

At 3 PM the boss leaves the office to attend a funeral. Ten minutes later, Elaine ducks out of work, smug that she can get away with it. You're about to gossip to your coworker about Elaine taking off, but instead you stop yourself and ask: What's the right response?

Ask yourself the simple question, "What's the right response?"

When you tell your 12-year-old son that he can't go out until he finishes his homework, he answers back with real chutzpah. You're about to let him have it, but instead you ask yourself: What's the right response?

Sitting with a group of friends at a party, Steve cracks a joke at Marci's expense. She's embarrassed and runs out of the room. You're about to tear into Steve with, "You're such a jerk," when you ask yourself: What's the right response?

Asking the simple question, "What's the right response?" will not only divert you from a carping, critical attitude, but will also save you from doing something that may be as bad or worse than the wrongdoing you've witnessed.


Danny, at 25 years old, was in the process of exploring his relationship to Judaism. He came to Jerusalem to spend a year studying at Aish HaTorah. He rented an apartment and bought an expensive motorcycle to get around Jerusalem's congested streets.

One evening he went to visit his teacher, Rabbi Yom Tov Glazer. When he emerged from Rabbi Glazer's apartment a couple hours later, Danny's motorcycle was gone. It had been stolen.

Danny was horrified. The motorcycle had cost him a big chunk of his savings. Even worse, however, was that his tefillin were in the motorcycle's storage box. He had received this fine set of tefillin from his parents for his Bar Mitzvah. Although his family is observant, Danny had stopped putting on tefillin some five years before. Still, he carried them with him wherever he went, perhaps as a kind of talisman. The motorcycle, however costly, was replaceable, but he could never replace his Bar Mitzvah tefillin.

Danny immediately called the police. Then Rabbi Glazer took him in his car to scan the neighborhood. Motorcycle thieves typically roll their booty to a nearby hiding place, then return with tools to get the engine working. Danny and Rabbi Glazer spent an hour combing a five-block radius around the scene of the crime, without success. Finally Rabbi Glazer dropped off a heartbroken Danny at his apartment.

Danny could have responded with bitterness, resentment, or anger at the thief who had ripped him off. Instead he turned the spotlight on himself and examined his own deeds. He concluded that because he was not putting the tefillin on each day as he was supposed to, he had lost the privilege of owning them. He resolved that the next morning he would go out and buy a new set of tefillin, and he would henceforth put tefillin on daily.

Meanwhile, Rabbi Glazer drove home. Because of the dearth of parking spaces near his apartment, he leased a parking space in a private lot six blocks away. He parked his car in his space. As he started to walk away, he glanced over the low wall beside his car. There, hidden in the shadows, was Danny's motorcycle.

And inside the storage box were Danny's Bar Mitzvah tefillin.

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