Scales of justice

When we judge other people favorably, God judges us favorably in turn.

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

This week’s Torah portion is “Shoftim” (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9), and as its name implies, it’s about “judges” and the creation of a legal system and law enforcement mechanism. That’s right – the Torah commands us to appoint judges and police officers!

The verse says, “You shall appoint for yourselves judges and police officers in all your cities … .” While the verse certainly refers to the regular law enforcement officials that we are all familiar with, our sages teach us that there is a deeper message here.

Take a closer look at the verse. The sages say that the verse is telling us not only to appoint judges and police officers for the community, but also “for yourselves.”

In other words, we have to be police officers and judges over ourselves. We have to make sure we are behaving properly. This is true for both material and spiritual matters.

We are constantly passing judgment. Although this is completely normal, acceptable and sometimes vital, we have to recall the conclusion of the same verse quoted above. The verse ends, “[A]nd they shall judge the nation fairly.”

Just like the community judges must judge justly and fairly, so too, when we judge others, we must judge favorably.

We are taught to always give the benefit of the doubt when observing others. If we see someone doing something wrong, we are to assume that there must be a good reason for his or her actions. True, sometimes we have to really stretch things and bend over backwards in order to justify behavior from other people that appears problematic, but we are judged favorably by God for doing so. And sometimes, just sometimes, our mental gymnastics to justify another person’s seemingly poor behavior might actually produce the real reason for it.

“You shall pursue justice, in order that you live … .” If we judge people favorably, then God will judge us favorably, as well!

With Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur just around the corner, the days of judgement, it is certainly a good time to practice judging people favorably so that God will judge us favorably for a blessed new year!

Click below for more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion.