“With righteousness shall you judge your fellow.”
According to Rashi, this mitzvah refers either to actual judges ruling on a case, or to each of us being dan l’chaf zechus: judging our fellow man favorably.
In the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov we discover a third, related, explanation.
Antoninus once said to Rebbi, “It would seem that a person’s body and soul should each be able to absolve themselves from judgment.
“The body [after death] can claim ‘It is [clear] that the soul was the one who sinned, for from the day it has departed from me I have been lying like a silent rock in the grave — unable to sin.’
“The soul, in turn, can claim that ever since it departed from the body it has been flying in the air like a bird, equally unable to sin.”
Rebbi responded with a parable.
“A king had a magnificent orchard which contained beautiful, early-ripening figs. The king stationed two guards in the orchard, one lame and the other blind.
“‘I see beautiful figs ripening in the orchard,” the lame guard turned to the blind one and said. ‘Come, let me mount your shoulders and together we will bring the figs here and eat them.’
“The blind guard agreed, and together they took the figs and ate them.
“When the king discovered that his prized figs were missing, he confronted the two guards.
“‘Do I have feet with which to go to the figs?’ the lame guard argued.
“‘Do I have eyes with which to see the figs?’ the blind man countered.
“So the king mounted the lame guard on the blind one and judged them as a unit.
“Hakadosh Baruch Hu brings the soul and re-inserts it in the body,” Rebbi concluded, “and judges them together” (Sanhedrin 91b).
From these words it would appear that a person is only judged — and subsequently rewarded or punished — after his passing. Yet, we do find that individuals receive punishments during their lifetime as well. So when are we judged?
The Baal Shem Tov, zy”a, teaches us that during our lifetime we are not judged by Heaven; rather, we judge ourselves.
In the course of a normal day we encounter people in a wide range of situations. We observe, weigh and pass judgment on how others behave.
Little do we know that it is not the other person we are judging, but ourselves. It is our own fate that we are deciding. … For the Ribbono Shel Olam arranges that we should see our own deeds being performed by others, and our reaction decides how we will be judged.
A person is not shown the misdeeds of his fellow unless he is guilty — in some form — of the same offense. One of the great tzaddikim of yesteryear once witnessed chillul Shabbos. Deeply troubled, he made a cheshbon hanefesh and came to the conclusion that he had been led by Shamayim to witness this because on another occasion he had seen a talmid chacham being mistreated and did not sufficiently protest.
His silence was considered as if he had been in collusion with the wrongdoers, and since a talmid chacham is compared to Shabbos, he was caused to witness chillul Shabbos.
The Toldos Yaakov Yosef, zy”a, relates a mashal (in Kesones Passim) in the name of Reb Nachman Kossover, zy”a.
A king once commissioned artists to create paintings for the royal palace. One of the artists drew a stalk of wheat standing in a field with a small bird perched on it. While most who saw it were impressed, a peasant came by and pointed out a flaw: Invariably a stalk of wheat rustles in the wind, and this one was standing too straight.
The artist then painted a new picture, this time of a plow in a field with workers walking behind it. The painting found favor in the eyes of the king and his ministers, but once again the peasant found fault, saying that the positioning of the plow and the workers was inaccurate.
Finally the artist depicted the Queen’s inner rooms. True to form, the peasant thought he found a mistake. But this time he was given a sound beating.
“The inner rooms of the Queen you never saw in your life!” he was told.
Who are we to judge a fellow Yid? We cannot fathom the greatness of every single one. By denigrating a precious child of Hashem we are acting out of ignorance and perhaps worse.
May we merit judging others favorably, and in this merit be judged favorably ourselves.