shmirat haloshon - Judging Others Favorably

This post is dedicated in merit that Hershel ben Etya Sarah have a yeshuah.
Elisheva Maline

During the Yom Kippur services, we confess our wrongdoings; in the same breath, ask G-d's forgiveness and the privilege to be written up in the Book of the Living. Among the many sins we must atone for are a list of offenses pertaining to a person's transgressing the laws of Shmirat haLoshon. Some of these include speaking disgracefully about others, scoffing and idle chatter. The list stretches, of course. 

Concerning the sin of speaking disgracefully about others, the Artscroll siddur interprets this to mean bearing tales of other people's shortcomings and/or acting like a hypocrite.What purpose is there in speaking or listening to loshon hara? Underlying motives stem from a variety of sources: a need for attention, a strong desire to be in the know, or sometimes, revenge. All this notwithstanding, A Daily Companion informs its readers that "if one were to search for the first spark of loshon hara as it begins to develop in a person's mind, he would find it in the part of the brain that makes judgments." Not only does one need to think before he speaks, he must be aware of the direction his thoughts take as well.

It's one thing for the Chofetz Chaim to put a clamp on our speech patterns, quite another for him to give the precept that we must filter our thoughts as well. The Chovos Halevavos (Obligations of the Heart), a sefer (book) written by Rabbeinu Bachya in the 10th century offers the following formula: instead of slandering someone behind his back,  one should focus on his positive features. The motivating factor? If one judges his fellow man favorably, then measure for measure, G-d will take extra pains to see one in favorable light.    

In Leviticus it says, "With righteousness judge your fellow man." The Torah tells us that we must live life with a healthy perspective. Meanwhile, halachic (Torah law) authorities i.e. the Chofetz Chaim, have compiled every law connected to loshon hara for the every man. This way, no one may express confusion over how to fulfill the above command or any of the others. What kind of man is Leviticus discussing, though? According to Judaism, there are three status's of man: the wicked, the average and the righteous. Were one to stumble onto a man known for breaking the (Torah) laws in the middle of supposedly committing an immoral act one is commanded by the Torah to condemn him immediately. The law runs contradictory regarding the righteous man and with the average man, which most of us are, it is regarding him, especially if he is G-d fearing, that the Torah commands us to judge our fellow man favorably. Why is this so? Most of us are struggling with the forces of good and evil. Whether one catches his fellow man doing something wrong or catches himself misinterpreting an event, he must try seeing the situation in a positive light. After all, this average man, is trying to be a good person (and Jew). 

On the other hand, we repel the wicked man because like all wicked people he is already taken by his evil inclinations. The term wicked people can be determined by those who have no interested in mending their ways. If we associate with them, we will get pulled into their shenanigans. Therefore, the only way to to create solid boundaries is through rejecting them. Now, since the righteous generally serve as examples for us to live by, if they are seemingly caught "red handed" we must be sophisticated in our reasoning why. For instance, one is obligated to come up with factors as to why he saw a righteous man, for instance, entering a non-kosher restaurant, hitting a girl etc. The Torah isn't inviting us to be naive; rather, we must accept that not everything is at it seems. Sometimes, because we don't know enough, we have to let go and let G-d. 

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