||BENEFIT OF DOUBT IN MARRIAGE, PART TWO
- Thursday, October 5, '00 - Parshas Ha'azinu 5761
The Torah commands us to judge others
favorably and with all possible benefit of doubt. You would want others to never jump to
conclusions, to find out all the facts, understand your situation or context, know both
sides of the story before judging you, not take a negative report about you at face value,
find out if there is bias in a person speaking against you, feel certain that there must
be more (not yet known) to the story, presume you are kosher and innocent until firmly and
halachically proven otherwise, presume a good reason for all that you actually did and,
require proof before thinking bad of you.
The same way that you want these benefits for yourself, you are likewise obligated by
the Torah to judge others favorably and with such consideration; to recognize the
limitations and incompleteness of the facts and background in your impression of the
situation or in the report to you against a person, to suspect the motives in yourself or
a person reporting to you against a person, to obtain and verify all facts and background,
hear both sides of the story and overcome bias in yourself and any person reporting to you
against another Jew.
In a marriage scenario, benefit of doubt can be life itself to the relationship. This
is not limited to occasions when you see something happen which tempts you to scream,
accuse, condemn, criticize, feel betrayed or suspicious or otherwise react. Realize, in
general, that your partner undergoes stress, hurt and disappointments in life. If your
husband screams, was he abused that day by a boss or customer? Let a wife ask herself,
"What has he gone through today, or this last month, that may pressure, frighten or
pain him?" Maybe he feels terrible on his own that he screamed at you. When a husband
comes home, let him stop himself each time at the door before he goes in and think about
what may be on the other side of it. Will your wife one day be upset about something? Will
children be getting her excited or drained? Will she be going topsy-turvy in 17
tension-drenched directions? Before going in the front door, or before phoning your
spouse, be prepared for whatever may be going on. Whenever your partner does anything
which is irritating or suspect, tell yourself, "I do not know all the background. I
do not have all the facts. I must first find out what more there is to the whole story
before I entitle myself to decide what my feelings, view or response ought to be."
Both of you: keep composure and be prepared to handle whatever comes at you; with
patience, calm, gentleness, respect, wisdom, decency and love. Talk things out peacefully.
BE A "DEFENSE LAWYER" for the OTHER PERSON AND HIS/HER SIDE OF THE STORY! Maybe,
in context, your partner did something understandable or even commendable. Why did (s)he
do it? What was the context? What was the ENTIRE situation? What facts might you not be
aware of? What more was there to it? What other interpretations, besides mine, exist? LOOK
INSIDE YOURSELF AND ASK WHY YOU MUST SUSPECT, JUDGE, PRESUME, CRITICIZE OR ANTAGONIZE?
What might you or a "typical" person have done in the same set of circumstances?
WHAT IS MISSING IN YOUR CAPACITY TO JUDGE OBJECTIVELY AND FAIRLY, with an adequately open
and flexible mind? In what way might your perception be self-serving, including
psychologically? Where, in your past, did you learn to perceive negatively? What do you
emotionally disclose about yourself by your spontaneous untrusting, condescending or
condemning response? What good qualities in your partner should you come to appreciate
more? How can you learn to judge in a positive, favorable way (or, at least neutral)? Are
you projecting something that you don't like or feel secure about within yourself? How can
you increase your ability to see life in a more positive way - with more things that you
view favorably in yourself and spouse? In what ways might your spouse deserve more trust
or confidence? How could you help rather than attack your spouse?
"Once Hillel invited a guest for a meal. A pauper came to his door and said [to
Hillel's wife], 'Today I am to marry and I have no livelihood.' She gave the entire meal
[to the pauper]. Then, she kneaded another dough, cooked another meal and brought it to
[Hillel and his guest]. [Hillel gently] said to her, 'My sweetheart, why did you not bring
[the meal] to us immediately?' She described to him all that happened. He said to her, 'My
sweetheart, I never judged you to be guilty. I only judged favorably, because all of your
deeds were only for the sake of Heaven [Derech Eretz Raba 6].'"