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Thursday, 4 December, 2014 - 12:14 pm

Dear Friend,

A man, who was not the nicest husband in the world, was arrested for shop lifting. When he went before the judge he was asked, “What did you steal?” He replied, “a can of peaches.” The judge asked him why he had stolen them and he replied that he had been hungry. The judge then asked him how many peaches were in the can. He replied that there zere five. The judge then said, “I will give you 5 days in jail.”
Before the judge could actually pronounce the punishment, the man’s wife spoke up and asked the judge if she could say something. The judge said, “What is it?” The wife said: “He also stole a can of peas.”
In the first chapter of the Ethics of the Fathers which we study on this Shabbat we learn this Mishnah:
Yehoshua ben Perachya says… Judge every person to the side of merit.—Ethics of the Fathers 1:6
It is a biblical commandment to “Judge your friend favorably.” This commandment was not only quoted in the Ethics, but it was also stated as something novel, an original idea by the Sage. How could this be?
Upon deeper scrutiny, we notice a minor difference, beween the two places where the statement is written.
The Torah tells us to judge our friends to the side of merit; Rabbi Yehoshua added that one should “judge every person to the side of merit.” When you have a friend who you know is a good person, it is logical to suggest that when you see him or her doing something wrong, you will give them the benefit of the doubt that the intentions were not malicious. However, would you do the same for “every person?”
The following story will illustrate this point.
The Ketav Sofer was the son of the illustrious Chatam Sofer. One day he called a meeting of the Torah giants of his generation to discuss a matter which affected all of European Jewry. Rabbis traveled from near and far, and Rabbi Sofer wanted to reward them for their efforts by showing them something which they would enjoy and would never forget. At the end of their deliberations, before they departed for their homes, the Rabbi showed them an ancient coin which he had inherited from his renowned ancestors. He said that he was told that it was an actual shekel from the days of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. “I believe that this is the only one of its kind in existence,” said the Ketav Sofer to his excited guests.
Since everyone wanted to gaze at this marvelous piece of antiquity, the Rabbi suggested that they pass it around so that each person could study it for a few moments. Every Rabbi treated the item with utmost care, well aware of its value. Suddenly, much to everyone's horror, the coin disappeared as if it had been swallowed up by the ground. No one remembered who had had it last and no one knew where it had gone.
Most aghast of all was the Ketav Sofer. He begged everyone to search the areas where they were sitting carefully and even inspect their pockets to see if the precious coin had not slipped into one of them inadvertently. The guests were not at all insulted by the suggestion since they all were equally puzzled as to what had happened and were open to any and all suggestions. But when even this intensive search proved fruitless, the Ketav Sofer begged their forgiveness and requested that his guests check each other's pockets.
Among the guests was a prominent old Rabbi, who was one of the students of the Holy Chatam Sofer. Although all of the assembled readily agreed to the slightly brazen plea of their host, totally understanding his feelings, this particular Rabbi objected, asking that they wait fifteen minutes before undertaking such a degrading activity. The Ketav Sofer and his guests were surprised at his objection, but agreed, nevertheless, out of respect for the elderly sage. After fifteen tense moments had passed, the old Rabbi requested that they wait another fifteen minutes before inspecting each other's pockets. Although the request seemed strange, the consensus of opinion was to acquiesce once again. However, when another quarter of an hour passed, and the Rabbi again begged that they wait yet another fifteen minutes, people unwillingly began to suspect that the old man may be hiding something from them. True, it was hard to believe, but one could never be sure, especially in light of this unusual behavior. After a short debate, the host and his guests agreed to wait one more quarter of an hour, but they made it clear that if the coin did not materialize by then, they would have no choice but to search each other's pockets, including those of the sage.
Suddenly, one of the kitchen help ran into the room excitedly and held up the lost coin for all to see. He explained that he was shaking out the tablecloth into the garbage when suddenly he noticed something made of metal among the leftovers. He picked it up and was shocked to see that it was his master's coin which had almost been thrown away with the trash.
Everyone was relieved, most of all the Ketav Sofer. But now all eyes turned to the old Rabbi requesting an explanation as to why in the world he had objected so obstinately to the search when obviously he had nothing to hide.
Reluctantly, the sage put his hand into his pocket and pulled out another coin, exactly similar to the Ketav Sofer's. He then explained that he too had intended to show the guests this rarity and had brought it along for that explicit purpose. However, when he saw how happy his Rabbi's son was to believe that he was the only one who had such a coin, he decided not to reveal that there was at least one more copy in existence.
“Imagine what everyone would have thought,” continued the Rabbi, “had someone found this coin in my pocket. No one would ever believe my explanation, nor could I expect them to. I therefore asked you to wait a while and I prayed to Hashem that I not desecrate His Holy Name by causing people to think that I had stolen the coin from the Ketav Sofer. When my prayer wasn't answered, I asked for an extension and prayed even more intensely. When your patience began to wear out, I begged Hashem from the depths of my heart and soul to make the original coin reappear from wherever it had fallen and then, thank G-d, the fellow in the kitchen found it.”
Everyone understood then, more than ever, why the Torah commands us not to suspect anyone, no matter how suspicious he seems, unless there is absolute proof of his guilt. We too must learn to be far less judgmental in life. Just as you judge me favorably, so may G-d judge you favorably."
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky
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