SEFER CHOFETZ CHAIM — Hilchos Lashon Hara 3:7-8
In Day 19, the Chofetz Chaim taught that when one fails to give someone the benefit of the doubt and as a result speaks lashon hara about him, he has transgressed not only the sin of lashon hara, but also the mitzvah of “Judge your fellow favorably.” In this segment, the Chofetz Chaim details the laws of this mitzvah as they relate to lashon hara.
If someone is known to be a G-d-fearing Jew, then even when his actions seem more likely to be sinful, we are obligated to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he has not done wrong.
If he is an average person who usually avoids sin but sometimes sins, then if it seems equally possible that his actions are either bad or good, we are obligated to give him the benefit of the doubt. If his action more likely was sinful but there is a possibility that it was not, then we have not sinned by judging him unfavorably. However, even here it is proper to keep an open mind on the matter and not judge him unfavorably. In any event, it is forbidden to tell others what the person has done unless the seven rules of to’eles (constructive purpose) have been fulfilled.
The Chofetz Chaim quotes the famous teaching: “If one judges his fellow favorably, then Hashem will judge him favorably.”
In an address, the great Rosh Yeshivah Rabbi Avraham Pam discussed this mitzvah:
The words “Judge your fellow favorably” are interpreted in two ways: as a warning to a judge to be fair in judgment, and as a command to every Jew, “Give your friend the benefit of the doubt.” According to the second interpretation, why does the Torah use the word “Tishpot” (Judge)a word that is commonly associated with courtroom judgment?
Often, when people accept negative information about someone, they react spontaneously: “He did such and such? He’s not worth the ground he walks on! He should be punished! He should be driven out of town!” The Chofetz Chaim cautions that such talk is not merely an opinion, it is “Rendering judgment before Heaven.” When someone indicts his fellow Jew, this carries great weight in Heaven and causes that person great harm. Thus, when we express our opinion of someone’s negative behavior, we are offering “judgment” in a very real sense, a judgment that reaches the Heavenly Court.
On the other hand, when we speak good of our fellow Jew, we act as his defender, in Heaven and this brings great pleasure to Hashem. In the words of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, “The mouth was created only to speak words of Torah and to speak good of the Jewish people.”
… If one has the right outlook on people, it is not difficult to judge them favorably; it is actually the easiest thing in the world. There is so much good in people … so much inner charm. If husbands wives would appreciate the greatness of each other’s neshamah, the kedushah (sanctity) that is within them, the qualities that each possesses, would there be any shalom bayis (domestic harmony) problems?
Judging each other favorably holds the key to all good midos, to all blessings, to all forms of shalom — and there is no blessing greater than peace.
IN A NUTSHELL
Judging others favorably is the key to all good midos and a crucial component of shemiras halashon.
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