How to Love and not to Judge

Mina Zalmanov, Hollis Hills, NY
Essays 2019 / Judgmentalism


You’re sitting calmly on the bus and she staggers on, pushing a stroller and two whining toddlers tag at her skirt. She looks a bit frazzled and glances around, desperately trying to find a seat. Your heart goes out to her causing you to righteously give up the coveted place. She sits down and lets out a deep breath, but her children are waiting for some attention now that the rush to get on to the bus has passed. You then struggle to keep your composure as she pulls out her phone and starts scrolling. OK, maybe she needs to make a call… But the minutes creep by and her children start kvetching loud enough for the driver to hear. She then snaps at them “be quiet, or else!” and you almost lose it. Excuse me, leave your children at home if you can’t handle them in public!

Thoughts such as these run through our consciousness on a daily, or even hourly, basis. When meeting a prospective employee- hmm, shirt isn’t tucked in perfectly, he’s probably a shlump and unorganized. When spotting an old classmate in the grocery store and only starting small talk after a quick elevator look; checking the length of her skirt and the company of her handbag. When the plumber walks in with dreadlocks and an unidentified silage, your eyes are glued to the security cameras all the while he works. The fact that these examples come so easily to my mind prove how my brain is wired to be prone to judging others- and I’m sure so many people can say the same (and I just did it again…)

So we all do it. And we all judge for different reasons. These thoughts could stem from a place of righteousness and wanting to help the other person- nebach, she probably doesn’t know better… Or they can originate from a place of sheer jealousy and unwarranted hatred towards the other person. And this is where the issue lies- when we judge others simply because we don’t like them and need to validate these sentiments. We might even accredit them with more faultry attributes than they actually deserve… such are the ways of our selfish minds.

We do find instances where judging in necessary and the concept of judges is even encouraged by the Torah law. In Parshat Yisro(1), we read about Moshe Rabeinu sitting and judging the people throughout the day. Naturally there are arguments amongst Jews so each party would bring their case to Moshe to receive the divine verdict. Moshe’s father-in-law, Yisro, who joined the Jewish nation as they travel through the desert, has a hard time coming to terms with Moshe’s arduous schedule and he asks Moshe why he spends the entire day doing what he does. Moshe answers that “the people come to seek G-d”, they want to know specifically what G-d has to say about their case and for this Moshe is willing to stand and receive Jews the entire day. This form of judgment is essential for man- it’s imperative to seek those wiser than us because they will guide is in the right direction and impart to us the will of Hashem.

The Problem:

On the other hand, taking matters into our hands and jumping to our own conclusions about others in uncalled for and even borderline mean… Yes, we all judge despite the fact that we don’t have the authority to judge- since we don’t usually do so for the right reasons. There is so much we don’t know and will never know about the other person. This is why the talmud says(2) “Don’t judge your fellow until you have reached his place,” meaning to say “don’t ever judge your fellow,” since “his place” is a place you can never truly be. Even those given power by the Torah to judge are given specific limiting guidelines.

For example, there is a general rule in the Torah that when a person is on trial both his defense team and prosecutors put their cases on the table and then the judges have a chance to vote on the verdict. A majority of one is enough to acquit the accused, while a majority of two is necessary to convict him. But if there is not one judge who votes in favor of his acquittal, then the Torah rules that the person is not convicted and pronounced not guilty by the court.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains the reasoning behind this law: No man is so totally evil that there is nothing to say in his defense; there is always some perspective in while you will find certain goodness in his soul. Not necessarily will this person be found innocent by law, but if not if not a single person in the court sees an ‘innocent side’ to him, they clearly have little understanding of who he is and therefore are unfitting to pass judgement.(3)

The Torah is so sensitive when it comes to passing judgement because labeling and judging others done so naturally in a degrading mindset. Therefore, we need to constantly be reminded of its negative outcomes.

But why is such an undesired character trait so natural? As with anything negative or opposing to holiness in this world, the pull towards to entertaining such thoughts stems from a kelipah (literally meaning shell or peel, because just as the shell conceals the fruit, so too the forces of kelipah conceal the G-dliness in every created being in this world). There is a specific kelipah called “midian” which is the source for baseless hatred; hatred that has no reason. The strife and hatred towards others, which stems from this kelipah, is not activated at a specific moment but rather it is the result our general inability to tolerate others. These feelings of detest can even apply to someone we have never dealt with before. We find it impossible to live together and interact with them since we hate them for no reason; out of simple baseless hatred. This general hatred we all contain in our hearts may sette on a specific negative aspect we attribute to another, and this is when we harbor a certain complaint about the other person and use it to justify our baseless hatred towards him. These pretexts are the cause of our hatred, but an attempt to rationalize our after the fact hatred.

The root of our inability to tolerate others is yeshus- egotism. We ego kicks in, to us, the most important matter at hand is ourselves and therefore our self concern shows dominance in every aspect of our lives. When this ego works in full force, it disables us from being able to tolerate others. We view the existence of others’ as a belittlement of our own and therefore can’t handle the fact that they exist. We claim- how dare someone else’s existence takes precedence over my own? This prompts us to view others as essential opponents and therefore it is impossible for us to tolerate them.(4)

In short, the cause of our baseless hatred is yeshus/egotism. The rationalizations of this hatred are what follow in the form of claims against the other person. Such pretensions are wrong since they are not sourced from proper intentions. We cannot judge another person in order to justify our hatred towards him; this hatred stems from kelipah!

We can even further understand where our judgemental mindset comes from based on the what the Tanya explains.(5) The Baal Hatanya writes that when a person works on himself and does honest self assessment of his actions, he will feel less satisfied with himself, which is essential for a person who is striving to grow to be better than his current status. But even then he must be careful, since he may feel that at least his situation is not as bad as his peers and instead of assessing his own shortcomings, he will find relief in the fact that although he may not be perfect, at least he is not as bad as others… So besides for justifying our hatred toward others, we tend to judge and assess them in order to downplay our own shortcomings.

Paradigm Shift:

To climb out of this pit we created for ourselves, there needs to be shift in our perspective about others in general. The shift is twofold:

1) We often look at others and judge based on our own standards- and therefore conclude that we are better than them. But the truth is, we need to recognize that everyone has his individual challenges and struggles: While for one person it is difficult to pray with concentration, for another person it may be a challenge to treat his parents with respect. And if the latter fails to do so, he is no better than the first person who commits a sin. The tests we all face are personally given to us and the fact that one’s test in greater than another’s is irrelevant. By understanding this, we realize that we have no right to assess others negatively and should judge them favorably, since we cannot relate to their current situation.(6)

Ask yourself– If I was confronted with the same obstacle in the same exact situation as him, would I have acted any better?

2) There is a well known saying from the Baal Shem Tov (founder of the chassidic philosophy); “A mentch iz a shpigel”, meaning man is a mirror. The faults we find in others (and sometimes identify as an excuse for our baseless hatred) are generally a reflection of our own negative qualities- even if not it’s not so clear or direct.

A teacher of mine related how a mother complained to her that she’s at her wits end in trying to deal with her daughter who doesn’t dress modestly. And furthermore, “I know that a mentch iz a shpigel,” she claims, “so what is my daughter’s mode of dress reflecting in me?” My teacher wisely suggested that her daughter not dressing according to the accepted standards could mean that she focuses on her external expression and cares what other thinks of her, and this could be a reflection of the mother’s own interest in her externalities…

So if we regulate ourselves to the fact that there is something to learn from everyone as opposed to focusing on their faults, we will become more open minded and accepting human beings. The seemingly annoying aspects to another person will stop bothering us since it won’t be the focal point. In addition, by us improving our own character, we will become a source of inspiration for others- how satisfying!

The Solution- Thought, Speech, and Action:

The motivation to stop judging others with the wrong intention is rooted in shift in our outlook on other people. The most effective to way to actually change our attitude is by changing the expressions of our attitude, because eventually our external actions will drag along our internal feelings and perspectives.

Our internal world is expressed in three ways, through thought speech and action(7). With Hashem’s abundant kindness and assistance along with some effort, we can change our attitude towards others and they way it is expressed; for the positive.

Thought: The Lubavitcher Rebbe wrote in his response(8) to someone, who was struggling with keeping his judgemental mindset at bay, that he strongly recommend to learn Chapter 32 of the Tanya. Chapter 32 (which in hebrew is לב meaning heart) explains that if one has a hard time with the mitzvah of loving his fellow, he should contemplate the fact that on the level of souls, him and every other Jew are considered literal brothers. Our souls all come from the same source just as two brothers are sourced from the same father. Furthermore, on such a level, who knows which person has a greater soul than another? Maybe someone you can’t even look at, and make all sorts of negative claims to justify your feelings, is greater than you? Maybe you shouldn’t judge someone because you can never truly understand the stance of your fellow and if you were put into his position would you have acted the same way?

Think, am I really justified in judging this person? I really have no way of knowing why he acts the way he does….

Speech: In addition to learning Chapter 32 of Tanya, the Rebbe recommends to this person to speak to those that he does like, since he value their opinion, and maybe “they will surely help you dispel any suspicions in regards to those whom you are not satisfied.” The Rebbe enlightens us with the possibility of seeking assistance from others in overcoming our challenges because an objective view will usually bring along with it some clarity.

Speak to others. Especially those you respect. They are your best support.

Action: When personally attempting to change, the most efficient way of achieving this change is through a physical act. With this particular struggle, I find the best way for me to navigate it is by writing something down that I learned from a person that especially gets on my nerves, a few times a week. I try to regulate myself to noticing and focusing on the good in others, and eventually I hope to ONLY see the positive in another person, instead of judging them.

Write down the positive you see it others. It will be more concrete, tangible and effective in changing your view on people.

Takeaway Message:

The Lubavitcher Rebbe looked beyond any externalities, focusing on how precious the soul of every Jew is, and therefore epitomised what it means to have true love for another Jew. There was no judging when it came to the Rebbe, just pure and real concern. This is why people from all walks of life found comfort and condolence when talking to the Rebbe, and still do. This is why chassidim follow his directives. It can take one man, with the right lenses, to change the lives of millions. Imagine how our world would look if we can all learn from the Rebbe and try to do the same.

1 Parshat Yisro, chapter 18, verses 14-16
2 Pirkei Avot, Chapter 2, verse 4
3 Adapted from an article written by Rabbi Yanky Tauber of chabad.org
4 Maamar Heichaltzu, chapter 4. This chassidic discourse was given over by the fifth chabad RebbeRabbi Sholom DovBer Shneersohn- twice in the year 5659 (1898), on Simchas Torah and on Shabbos Parshat Noach. It had a very beneficial effect on the chassidim and still does today. The Rebbe encouraged many to learn this maamar.
5 Lekutei Amarim, chapter 30
6 GPS for the Soul by: Nadav Cohen
7 Tanya, chapter 4. The Baal Hatanya goes into depth about how to reveal the soul’s inner strengths to serve Hashem.
8, letter dated to March 25, 1982; ,ניסן‘ א תשמ ”ב