Rosh HaShana has passed. Yom Kippur is approaching. Our time to tip the scales in our favor is ebbing away. The High Holiday prayers state that repentance, prayer, and charity can remove an evil decree from upon us. We want G-d to judge us positively, to give us the benefit of any doubt that there may be about our devotion to Him.
“In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor.” (Vayikra 19:15) This commandment dictates that we give our neighbor the benefit of the doubt, that we assume he or she acted correctly or properly. Rav Yitzchak Hutner zt”l discusses the parameters of this dictate. The lengths to which we must judge our fellow man favorably depends on the person being judged. For example, if the person is average, with an equal possibility that he or she could or could not have performed a misdeed, we must view the person favorably. In addition, this dictate only applies before we become aware that a person actually did sin. Before we have any specific knowledge, we must view the person favorably. However, once we are aware that the person did commit a transgression, we no longer have an obligation to judge the person favorably. We have no obligation to believe that the person rectified his or her misdeed.
There is, however, an exception to this rule. The Talmud (Brachos 19a) teaches “If you see a scholar who has committed an offence by night, do not think bad of him at him by day, for perhaps he has done penance.” The commandment to judge one’s neighbor favorably has an added dimension when applied to a Torah scholar. One is not merely obligated to assume that any given person, without knowing anything specific about the person, is righteous. A person is further obligated to assume that if a Torah scholar has acted improperly, the scholar has repented as well.
What is of note is that this additional obligation does not apply by any other form of righteous action. It does not apply to people who excel in the giving of charity. It does not apply to people whose prayers are constantly pure and soulful. It does not apply to people who are scrupulous in their honesty and integrity. It applies only to those who study Torah diligently, with dedication and devotion to all the commandments contained within. Only the “Talmid Chacham” gets this additional degree of favorable judgement.
Our judgement day has arrived. As we all know, we are not perfect. We have all strayed to some degree from the straight and righteous path that G-d has set forth for us. Yet, we have also lived much of our lives properly, trying to be the just, compassionate, and G-d fearing people that we know we should be. What can we do to throw the balance in our favor? What can we do to illustrate that we are people who sincerely desire to do the right thing. We have clearly seen the power of dedicating ourselves to Torah. It casts upon us a positive light, an aura of righteousness. Just as we must judge our fellow man with an extra degree of favor if the person is dedicated to Torah, G-d will do the same. Come Yom Kippur, we should be able to say to G-d that we are truly dedicated to His Torah and the precepts contained therein. We should be considered scholars of Torah, and judged accordingly.
We should start, right now, to take concrete steps to make this dedication a reality. We can commit to attending Torah classes. We can set up Torah study sessions with a partner. We can devote time to study the weekly Torah portion in its entirety, using the Internet as a guide. A myriad of opportunities are out there. Lets take advantage of one, and do that one to perfection. May we all merit to be judged as “Talmidai Chachamim” this year.
G’mar Chasima Tovah.
Check out all of the posts on Elul and Rosh HaShana. Head over to http://www.torah.org/learning/yomtov/ to access the YomTov Page. Then click on the icon for the holiday of your choice.
For questions, comments, and topic requests, please write to Rabbi Yehudah Prero.