Honesty and trust are the basis of all healthy relationships. In the section of the Torah that charges the Jewish people to being holy, the Torah does not detail some ascetic, mystical ideal of inhibition. It talks about us. It talks about how we interact with each other:
לֹא תִשְׂנָא אֶת אָחִיךָ בִּלְבָבֶךָ הוֹכֵחַ תּוֹכִיחַ אֶת עֲמִיתֶךָ וְלֹא תִשָּׂא עָלָיו חֵטְא – Do not hate your brother in your heart. Reprove your neighbour again and again; but do not bear a sin on his account! (19:17)
In our respective circles, people respond differently to different things. Intentionally or not, people get upset. It’s an unavoidable part of life. The Torah calls on us to act on it.
There is also no shortage of people to denounce from our circles. People whose politics or religiosity offend us. The Torah reminds us that these people too, are our brothers, and calls on us to act on this too. It is okay to call people out on public desecrations, and draw a line. But they are still out brothers.
Rav Hirsch notes that there is is a dual aspect. לֹא תִשְׂנָא אֶת אָחִיךָ – Do not hate your brother, and בִּלְבָבֶךָ, in your heart. The hatred is bad; but keeping it to yourself is worse. Forget the wrong, or don’t keep it in. The way to let it out is הוֹכֵחַ תּוֹכִיחַ אֶת עֲמִיתֶךָ. It is a personal duty to directly bring a little more self-awareness to others, in our own way.
The duty is qualified by integrity and moral awareness. It is important for deliver the message properly, but it is equally important to hear the message properly. This duty reverberates with the fraternal relationship we have with each other אָחִיךָ and עֲמִיתֶךָ; to properly perform this mitzva, there can be no judgment or superiority. If they’ll never listen, you should not say anything.
Crucially, the Torah says that וְלֹא תִשָּׂא עָלָיו חֵטְא – Do not bear a sin on his account. If we say nothing, it is our fault, not theirs! If someone hurts you, and doesn’t understand or realise the extent of it, then the broken relationship is your own fault for not bringing it to their attention to fix.
Consider the gas tank indicator in your car. What if it didn’t want to bother you with an accurate measurement of precisely how long you have until you stall? Such “kindness” would defeat it’s very purpose. A measuring tool that isn’t accurate is completely useless.
It’s definitely frustrating that your car lets you know you need to make a twenty minute trip to then pump expensive fuel. But the kindness is not in the information. The kindness is in what you do with it.
Middos literally means measurements. And we are charged with being the measuring tools of each other’s behaviour.
All of us would do well accept constructive criticism more freely from those who truly care. But it’s important to sometimes offer it to friends too.
The integrity of your relationship can be measured by the amount of truth it can take.
Anyone could tell you that idol worship is anathema to Judaism. Some would tell you that idol worship doesn’t truly exist today. Fewer could tell you that it exists in certain forms in all our lives.
A sub-category of idolatry is superstition, which the Torah outlaws:
לֹא תְנַחֲשׁוּ וְלֹא תְעוֹנֵנוּ – Do not consult omens or lucky times… (19:26)
R’ Shlomo Farhi defines idolatry as losing grip on your intellectual approach to what it means to a human. What differentiates mankind from the animal kingdom is that we can control our choices and thought processes.
Rav Hirsch teaches that superstition divorces our God-given mental faculties from our choices, which is the exact definition of idolatry.
Superstition denies the order of science and nature, and denies free will and morality. The Torah is the lens through which we are charged with making choices, and superstition circumvents it.
Superstition places moral actions under external influences, destroying the relationship between Creator and creation. Rav Hirsch notes the common root of Nichush – superstition, and Nachash – the primeval snake. Like the snake, superstitious activity deceptively wriggles and slithers toward disaster.
The people most susceptible to superstition are vulnerable people struggling through something, desperate for a way forward. The Torah emphasises that cutting corners is not the way forward.
The Torah is supposed to guide us through the darkness. Doubt is normal. Uncertainty is expected. The Torah urges us to embrace the difficulty of the unknown, and challenges us to work through it without looking for a quick fix.
The Torah states in numerous places that upstanding societies are predicated on justice:
בְּצֶדֶק תִּשְׁפֹּט עֲמִיתֶךָ – You shall judge your fellow with righteousness (19:15)
Rashi notes that this is not just the approach for formal legal systems and executors of justice; this is how people ought to conduct themselves on an individual level too. The Gemara in Shabbos states that הדן חבירו לכף זכות, דנין אותו לזכות – one who judges their fellow favorably is judged favorably in return.
The Ba’al Shem Tov teaches that when a person gets to Heaven, he is ushered into a courtroom, and is instructed to judge a case. The case is presented, the prosecution speaks, then the defense. The eager new-comer pounds the gavel and declares the defendant guilty. The angels pull him aside, and say, “Reb Yid, this case was actually about you. You are the defendant. Don’t you remember that time you…” He must then answer for all the times he was guilty.
R’ Yisroel Reisman points out that this is why we call this process דין וחשבן – a ruling and accounting. The ruling comes first.
R’ Reisman asks a poignant question – this mechanism will not work on people who already know this. When it is eventually and inescapably their turn to judge, will the people who know better declare everyone and everything innocent, and when informed that they are the defendants, will they feign surprise and be absolved?
The Beis HaLevi explains that the judgment in Heaven is not a new, independent decision.
The judgments we make in our lives will one day be applied to ourselves, and we will be held to the standards we expected of others. All a person truly is, is the decision they have made. Are we real? Do we match up to what we think we perceive to be in the mirror? When you judge another, you do not define them; you define yourself. If you are kind, you will be treated kindly. You project the values and beliefs you have, and one day, which will one day be shined on you.
בְּצֶדֶק תִּשְׁפֹּט עֲמִיתֶךָ is not exclusively about a court system. It is a way of life; a mentality. It is the way to create a community of fair, decent, and good people. Don’t treat people well based on their respective merit, or otherwise. Treat people well purely because you are someone who treats all people well.