Ask The Rabbi

Judge Knot

The Color of HeavenArtscroll
Topic: Feelings, Others', Judging

Jill Schlessinger wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

Is there anything in the Torah (or in other Jewish writings) that addresses the issue of interpreting someone else's feelings? For example: Something bad happens to someone and they are upset about it, and someone else tells them they are "over-reacting" and "irrational." What do Jewish writings say about making judgments about the legitimacy of other people's feelings?


Dear Jill Schlessinger,

In "Ethics of the Fathers," Hillel states "Don't judge another until you reach his place;" meaning, until you have been in the exact same position. Therefore, you can almost never judge another's feelings.

Even if one feels sure that the other person is over-reacting, he should carefully consider if, how and when to express it. As Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar says, "Don't try to appease your friend at the moment of his anger, and don't try to comfort him when his dead lies before him." Trying to cheer someone up at the wrong time, or to tell him he's over-reacting, can cause even more pain.

There are, however, "inappropriate" emotions. For example, the Talmud forbids "crying too much" - i.e., for too long a time - at the loss of a loved one. Eventually a person must get over his losses and move forward.

Rabbi Yisrael Salanter is reputed to have said: "When a child's toy breaks, he feels as bad as an adult would feel if his factory were destroyed." In short, people experience losses at different levels, so it's nearly impossible to judge others' feelings.

Sources:

  • Pirkei Avot 2:5, 4:23
  • Mo'ed Katan 27b


 
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