Seasons - Then and Now

For the week ending 25 July 2020 / 4 Av 5780

Harmony of a Nation - Overcoming Baseless Hatred (Part 4)

by Rabbi Chaviv Danesh
Library Library Library

Ways to Overcome Baseless Hatred

Judging Favorably

One effective means for removing hatred from one’s heart and restoring peace is through judging others favorably (see Rashi on Shabbat 127b “hani nami bhanei shaichi”). The halacha says that when one sees a G-d-fearing person do an act that can be interpreted as either a sin or not a sin, then it is a mitzvah to judge him favorably and make up in one’s mind that the person indeed did not sin. This is true even if the act seems more likely to have been a sin. If there is no way to interpret it in a favorable light, one should make up in his mind that the person surely already regretted his actions and did teshuva for it.

If one saw a person who is mediocre in his Torah observance, then, if the act is equally likely to be a sin or not a sin, one must judge him favorably. If the act seems more likely to be a sin, then it is considered a good thing to judge him favorably even though one does not have to. If there is no way to interpret his action favorably, then he should think that perhaps the person already regretted his action and did teshuva for it (Chafetz Chaim 3:7, 4:4).

Regarding those who are not Torah observant in today’s day and age, we mentioned in part two of this series that often it is because he is lacking basic Jewish education — and his sins are usually a result of ignorance and not of rebellion and malicious intent. In such a case, one is not allowed to hate him as a result of seeing him sin (see Rambam, Hilchot Mamrim 3:3, Chazon Ish, Orach Chaim 87:14 and Yoreh Deah 1:6, 2:16, 2:28, Marganita Tava, printed at the end of Sefer Ahavat Chessed). By contemplating on the above, one can remove hatred from one’s heart by telling oneself that the person does not know better and does not have bad intent. By doing so, one will come to have compassion on him and hopefully even guide him in the right direction. A halachic authority should be contacted to determine who exactly falls under this category.

The question now is: How can one sincerely judge his fellow favorably and make up in his mind that he didn’t sin when he saw him do an action that seems so likely to have been a transgression? One way to do this is by reminding oneself of cases where, even though one seemed sure of the malicious intent of his friend, it turned out that it was just a misunderstanding.

There is a story that I often contemplate when faced with such situations. There was a first grade teacher who was always very punctual for class. One morning, he was held up and came a few minutes late. He was silently regretting his own lateness when, to his chagrin, Shlomo, one of his students, ran over to him immediately, sticking his watch into the embarrassed teacher’s face. The teacher reprimanded Shlomo and made a note to call his parents about the chutzpah displayed. On the telephone, Shlomo’s mother explained, “Oh no! This was just a misunderstanding. You see, Shlomo just got a new watch and said he wanted you to be the first to see it…” (for more examples, see Shabbat 127a and Ahavat Yisrael, chapter 5). The situation above is actually very common. Often people think that they were wronged by their friend, when, in fact, the whole thing was a big misunderstanding.

Even in rare cases where it is not possible for someone to judge favorably, one can still minimize the hatred in his heart in other ways. For example, if his fellow did not speak to him in a befitting manner, he can think to himself that perhaps the person had a bad day, and, as a result of his angry mood, did not have full control over his actions. One can also consider the fact that his fellow may have wronged him accidentally, or maybe he already regretted his actions and was just too embarrassed to ask for forgiveness, or maybe his intentions were good even though the results were not (see Rashi on Shabbat 127b “hani nami bhani shaichi” and Ahavat Yisrael, chapter 5).

More generally, one can remind oneself that everyone has his own tests in life. Perhaps this person is not as sensitive in one area, just as himself he may be lacking sensitivity in another. After all, everyone has their own unique weaknesses and strong points. With this perspective, one may be more understanding of the other’s actions, and thereby reduce, or, even better, eradicate his personal hatred altogether.

As extra motivation to judge one’s fellow favorably, it is worth mentioning the Gemara’s teaching that judging one’s fellow favorably is one of the unique things for which one receives reward both in this world and in the World to Come (see Shabbat 127a-127b).

Reprimanding

If the action of one’s fellow was a sin, then one has the mitzvah to let him know that what he did was a transgression and reprimand him for his actions (Rambam, Hilchot De’ot 6:6-7; see also Chut Shani, Yom Hakipurim p. 122 who says that this mitzvah applies today as well). It can very well be that the offender did not know or realize that what he did was a transgression, and, upon knowing, will do teshuva for it and not repeat it in the future. Alternatively, perhaps he will explain how his actions were justified or misunderstood. Both of these results will help to remove the hatred from one’s heart (see Ohr Hachaim on Vayikra 19:17).

In cases like the above where one is obligated to judge one’s fellow favorably, some hold that one does not have the mitzvah to reprimand him because he is obligated to assume that he didn’t transgress or that he did teshuva for it already. Others, however, hold that even then one has the mitzvah of reprimanding (see Chafetz Chaim 4:4 and Be’er Mayim Chaim 18 there for a discussion). One should consult a competent halachic authority to judge and rule in each individual case.

When reprimanding, one must be very careful to do it in a sensitive and correct way so that it will be effective and so that one would not commit the serious transgression of embarrassing his fellow or hurting his feelings. In general, the mitzvah of reprimanding has many halachot, such as whom to reprimand, when and where to do it, how to do it, etc. In fact, there are cases where one should not reprimand at all. Therefore, before doing it, one must thoroughly learn the halachot of reprimanding and discuss the individual case with a competent halachic authority.

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