Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Be Careful: Judging Others Favorably and Self-Improvement

There's a halacha that in order for the person to have fulfilled his obligation of Shemoneh Esrei, he must have actually verbally recited the words - merely scanning the words accomplishes nothing towards this end.

Keeping that in mind, the following is an interesting true event, which I just experienced:

I had davened Mincha in the shul, and left immediately prior to the Ma'ariv Shemoneh Esrei, in order to daven at a later Ma'ariv. I had left through the far exit of the synagogue, and approximately a minute later, I noticed two individuals leaving the synagogue. I started to talk with this individual. After a short time, we noticed someone pull into the parking-lot, asking where the congregation was holding in the prayers. The other person noted that they were done (or finishing). I pointed out that they were praying Shemoneh Esrei. This person who I had been talking with, started noting how the other individual is late to the synagogue, and I kept pointing out that we should judge this individual favorably, as he probably has a good reason for coming late, that we weren't aware of. The person kept on focusing on the other individual for a minute or two, and claimed that the other person told him that he wakes up later. I explained to this individual that it's more important for a person to guard their health than to be so focused on consistently making it to the prayer on time.

I then asked the person if he had prayed, to which he responded affirmatively. I said that it must have "taken" him a minute to pray the Shemoneh Esrei. He noted that it took him about two minutes. I asked, 'How is it possible to say the words that fast' (perhaps some people could do it?!?)? He said that he just scanned the words. I told him that he didn't fulfill his obligation of Shemoneh Esrei, as he didn't recite the words. He then said that everyone makes mistakes. I pointed out that that's not a justification, but we should try to learn the halachos - our goal is to learn more so that we follow all of the halachos properly.

The above is amazing, because this person had been focusing negatively on another person, which he saw come late after scanning the Shemoneh Esrei. When it came to his fault, he brushed it aside, but was somewhat critical of the other person.

We should learn from this that, in accordance with halacha, we should judge others favorably - dan l'chaf zichus, and should be willing to correct them at times, to help them improve in their observance of the halachos. However, we must also focus on bettering ourselves and thereby helping bring an end to all evil and leading to the time of Mashiach, when truth will not only not be lacking, as it has been, (Sanhedrin, 97a) but it will be all that which remains, with falsehood no longer having a place.