Minute 799: Justification

“You’d better not,” Avi warned. “That’s stealing.”

“Who says?” his cousin challenged.

“The Torah says!” Avi replied. “If you take something that doesn’t belong to you, it’s stealing. That’s one of the Ten Commandments.”

“Mr. Schultz likes me and if I’d ask him he’d certainly give it to me!” his cousin said.

“If he does, then it’s yours to keep,” Avi agreed. “But until he does, it’s still called stealing.”

Before a person can make amends, one must identify wrongdoing. Admitting that one has done wrong, however, often causes emotional pain and so a person denies the action’s negative nature. An outright rejection generally doesn’t work to inhibit guilt, and that’s when “justification” springs into action.

When Avraham Avinu’s shepherds reproved Lot’s shepherds, accusing them of stealing by allowing their animals to graze on land belonging to others, they justified their actions by saying the land was promised to Avraham and Lot was his next of kin. To exonerate themselves, they used this logic: “Although Avraham didn’t take possession as yet, it’s inevitable, so there’s no need to wait.”

A person has the ability to justify almost anything. Shlomo Hamelech said, “He who steals from his father and mother and says there is no transgression…” (Mishlei 28:24). Our wise monarch used father and mother as victims of crime because a child might justify taking from them as just “jumping the gun” — for they would certainly give it if asked. Or perhaps a child sees himself as an heir and it’s really his in any event.

The first element of the repentance process is identifying the sin. The natural reaction is defensive denial of any wrongdoing. The beneficial response is remorse and a resolve never to repeat the misdeed. Don’t deflect — accept and repair!

One More Second: Another Thought for the Day

“Love your neighbor as yourself” (Vayikra 19:18). It is only natural to respect someone who is perceived as far superior, and as a rule, one has little difficulty in dealing warmly with someone upon whom one can justifiably look down. The greatest challenge is in relating well to peers. The verse then might better be read, “Love your neighbor who is as yourself,” i.e., a peer. (Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D., Smiling Each Day, p. 161)