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monday, april 23, 2018 8:18 am zst

Keep Calm and Carry On

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אבות א:ו

יהושוע בן פרחיה אומר, עשה לך רב, וקנה לך חבר; והוי דן את כל האדם לכף זכות.

Yehoshua son of P'rachya says: make for yourself a teacher, acquire a friend, and judge every person favorably.1



Make for yourself a teacher:

A "Rav" is really more than a teacher; ideally, he is a role model, someone who can inspire you by his actions, as well as by instruction. A Rav is someone who you can turn to for help or advice with any problem, whether halachic, interpersonal, or even another perspective on business advice.

Rambam infers from the language, "make .. a teacher", that even if the intended "Rav" doesn't consider himself worthy, or even if he may not be the ideal, one should "make him a teacher" - even if the other is at the same level of intelligence and knowledge - until he is able to fill that role on his own. Rabeinu Yonah writes that even a study-partner on your own level can clarify ideas and add new insights and thus be considered a teacher.

Rashi says, if one uses only his own reasoning, he will err; rather, one should learn from a teacher who can give over the knowledge and insights that he has gained from his own teachers.

In strict halachic terms, one is not supposed to be paid for teaching Torah. To "get around" this "problem", contracts are written so that teachers are being compensated for s'char beteila - the time they could have used to earn a wage at another job.

Perhaps at another level, R' Yehoshua ben P'rachya is reminding us that although it is wise to learn from many teachers, on should only have one Rav when it comes to matters of p'sak.2


Acquire a friend

As Shlomo HaMelech wrote, טובים השניים מן האחד - two are better than one.3

A true friend is one who is with you through good times and bad, with whom you can learn and grow. Rabeinu Yonah says that a person needs a good friend for three things: the learning of wisdom, constructive criticism4, and sound advice.

We don't just "make" friends for ourselves; we must invest in them and "acquire" them. Friendships are two-way affairs, since each one is frequently doing a favor or providing needed resources for the other. A relationship with a rabbi or teacher, as valuable as it may be, is basically passive. R' Yehoshua ben P'rachya is teaching us that we should expend whatever resources are necessary to attach ourselves to friends.


Rashi (first explanation) writes that this refers to seforim. Acquire books, for books are our friends. :-D


Judge everyone favorably

The Bartenura on our mishna immediately points out that this does not mean we should be naive, or let ourselves be taken advantage of. If you know that someone is evil, there is no reason to judge him favorably. If someone has mistreated you before, there's certainly no mitzva to let them walk all over you.

The Rambam explains that if you see a tzaddik doing something that appears wrong, assume that either you are mistaken, or that he will do teshuva immediately; if you see a rasha doing something that appears to be good, assume that he has some ulterior motive. This teaching refers to a beinoni - someone who falls somewhere in the middle. Judge such a person favorably until you have all the facts.

The Baal Shem Tov, however, says that we should even judge the evil person lekaf zechut.


The Maharal says that the first clause of the mishna refers to those on a higher level than you, the second refers to your peers, and the third, to everyone else - i.e., judge favorably those who are not necessarily at your own level or higher.

Alternatively, the Maharal says that this clause can be seen as refering to the previous two categories of people; teachers and friends. Once you have made a teacher for yourself, and acquired a friend, the only way to keep those relationships intact is by giving them the benefit of the doubt. Inevitably, people - especially those you are closest to - will do something that seems wrong to you. If you don't judge their actions favorably, you won't be able to continue to have respect for your Rav, or a close relationship with your friend.


Sfas Emes points out that the phraseology dan et kol ha-adam - does not mean - judge every person, but rather judge the entire person. Don't judge someone based on the action that you see, but rather, first you must understand the person's circumstances and background and motives - the entire person.


This dictum is not simply good advice - the gemara5 says that this is derived from the passuk בצדק תשפוט עמיתך - “With fairness you shall judge your people.”6. The Chofetz Chaim lists this is one of the positive commandments that is related to loshon ha-ra.7 According to Tosafot8, it is part of the mitzva of gemilat chessed.


The gemara9 in Shabbos say that how one judges others affects how he himself is judged in heaven. The prototypical example of this idea is Natan HaNavi's rebuke of David HaMelech after the incident with Batsheva. Natan asks David to pass judgment on an a case of a rich man had many sheep, and a poor man had only one sheep which was more or less a member of the family. One day, a guest arrived at the rich man’s house; the rich man took the poor man’s one sheep, and slaughtered it for his guest. David responded angrily that the rich man should be put to death. Natan turned to David and said, "You are that man!".10 The Kabbalists say that on the day of Final Judgment, everyone will similarly be asked to judge a case that is a parable to something they themselves did, and the judgment they pass will be their own.

The gemara11 tells a story about how far one person went to fulfill this dictum.

A man went down from the Upper Gallilee and was hired as a worker for a landowner in the south for three years.

On the day before Yom Kippur the worker came to his boss and said, “Give me my wages so I can support my wife and children.” He replied, “I do not have them.”

He said to him, “Give me produce.” He replied, “I have none.” He said to him, “Give me land.” “I have none.” “Give me animals.” “I have none.” “Give me pillows and covers.” “I have none.”

The worker slung his things over his shoulder and went home frustrated.

After the festivals the employer took the worker’s wages in hand, and along with them loaded three donkeys -- one full of food, one with drink, and another with tasty foods -- and went to his worker’s house.

After they ate and drank he gave the worker his wages.

He said to him, “When you asked me for your wages and I told you I have no money what did you suspect me of?” “I said perhaps you came across inexpensive merchandise and bought it.”

“And when you said to me to give you animals and I replied that I have none, what did you suspect me of?” “I said perhaps they were hired out.”

“And when you said to me to give you land and I told you I had none, what did you suspect?” “I said perhaps it was leased out to others.”

“And when I told you that I had no produce what did you suspect? “I said perhaps it was not tithed.”

“And when I told you that I had no pillows or blankets what did you suspect? “”I said perhaps he donated all of his property to Heaven.”

He said, “I swear that is exactly what happened. I vowed off all of my property because of my son who did not go to learn Torah. When I went to my friends in the south they annulled all of my vows. As for you - the same way you judged me favorably, Hashem should judge you favorably.”

This story is illustrative of how far we are expected to bend our logic and stretch our credulity in order to fulfill this principle.

There are many, many stories collected on the internet that illustrate the importance of judging favorably - enough to fill a book or two - or even three.

A couple of examples of true modern-day stories from the links embedded in that last paragraph:
It was late Tuesday night when the phone rang. It was my good friend J.P. "I’m making a wedding. Do you know a good photographer?" J.P. asked me. I gave him the name of an excellent photographer who is very reasonably priced.

"I’ve heard of him," said my friend, "but I also heard he’s unreliable."

"What makes you say so?" I asked.

"Well, I’m told that he was recently hired for a bar mitzvah and he arrived after it was half over. He missed half the affair. There’s no way I’d hire a person who is so irresponsible."

"Are you sure it’s true?" I asked him.

"I’m positive," he said. "Yisrael was the head of the band that night, and he told it to me himself. I met someone else who attended that same affair and he verified the facts. It’s 100% true."

"Maybe due to unforeseen circumstances he was delayed" I said, trying my best to judge favorably. "What makes you so sure it was a case of negligence or pure laziness?"

"Perhaps you’re right," replied J.P. "But I just can’t risk it. Besides, there is no reason in the world for coming late. He should have started out early enough so that even if his car broke down he could have taken a car service and made it on time. There is absolutely no good excuse for a photographer to walk in after half the affair is over!"

He had a strong point. When I hung up the phone I found myself in a real quandary. Could I really recommend someone who is unreliable? Was it truly negligence on his part? I decided to check out the story on my own. I called the musician and he verified the whole story.

The very next day, I bumped into my good friend, the photographer. I brought up the subject of the bar mitzvah.

"Is it true that you arrived halfway through the bar mitzvah?" I asked.

"Yes, it certainly is," he said. "But why are you asking?"

"I just recommended you for a job, and the people refused to take you. They claimed you were unreliable because you didn’t come on time."

He looked at me in disbelief, and then began telling me his story.

"The job was not mine at all," he began. "The photographer who had been hired for the job failed to show up. I received an emergency call in the middle of the affair to come down immediately. Despite being very busy at that moment, I dropped everything I was doing and raced down to the hall as quickly as possible."

With a hurt look on his face he added, "I only did it as a personal favor to them."




If people are already coming out on a cold winter’s night to hear a lecture, why don’t they listen?

That is what I was thinking that evening as I presented my lecture, one of a series on the topic of medieval Jewish history. Fifteen minutes earlier, two women had walked in (about ten minutes after we had started) and sat down in the back row. That was fine, as all the other seats were filled. What was not fine was that from the minute they sat down they did not stop talking. It’s true, they were speaking quietly, and I could not hear them, but it was nonetheless distracting for me, as the lecturer, to know that they had so little interest in what I had to say that they were not prepared to stop gabbing for one minute!

I pushed these thoughts away so I could concentrate on the material.

Three-quarters of an hour later I finished. And so, finally, did these two ladies. Gathering
my notes and preparing to leave, I noticed the pair approaching me.

At least they have the decency to come and apologize, I thought. But their apology was far from the one I expected.

“Thank you so much, Professor Frankel. We really enjoyed your talk,” one of them said.

I did a double take.

“And we learned so much,” she added enthusiastically.

Come on now. She has to be kidding!

“I’d like to introduce myself. And this is my sister,” she continued. “We are sorry we showed up late. We usually try to come early and take seats in the front row. But because of the rain, we had to drive slowly, so we were a few minutes late. You probably did not notice, but as you were speaking, I was repeating what you were saying. My sister is hearing impaired, but she reads lips very well. That’s why the front row, where she can see you, is best for her...”


1 אבות א:ו - Pirkei Avot 1:6
2 Eruvin 6b-7a
3 Koheleth 4:9
4 See Proverbs 27:6 and Breishit Rabba 54:3.
5 Shevuot 30a
6 Vayikra 19:15. See Sefer HaChinuch, mitzva 235
7 Shemiras HaLashon, Shaar HaTevunah 4
8 Shabbos 127b
9 ibid
10 Shmuel II 12:1-7
11 Shabbos 127b

Posted by joem on Apr 21, 2009 7:30 pm

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