Parshas Shoftim (5772)
The great Chassidic leader, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev (1740-1809), was renowned for his all-encompassing love and compassion for the Jewish people and for every individual Jew. He would always look for the good in each person, no matter how bad the person’s actions appeared to be.
Once, on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, Reb Levi Yitzchak was heading to shul for Selichos (Jewish penitential prayers commonly recited on the days leading up to the High Holidays and on fast days) when a sudden downpour forced him and his gabbai (personal assistant) to seek shelter under the awning of a tavern. The gabbai peered through the window and saw a group of Jews feasting, drinking, and reveling. Growing impatient, he urged Reb Levi Yitzchak to see for himself how the Jews inside were misbehaving when they should have been in synagogue praying to G-d for forgiveness. Instead of looking, Reb Levi Yitzchak rebuked his gabbai for finding fault with the Children of Israel. Surely, he asserted, they must be reciting blessings over their food and drink; instead of passing judgment on them, Reb Levi Yitzchak proceeded to bless them. The gabbai then peered into the tavern once more and overheard two Jews talking to one another about thefts they had committed. He told this to the Rebbe, yet once more Reb Levi Yitzchak refused to judge them and instead concluded that, indeed, they must be holy Jews since they were confessing their sins to one another before Rosh Hashanah! [from the website: www.berdichev.org]
“The Berditchever”, as he was lovingly known, had a very good reason for finding only the good in each person instead of pointing out the bad - and for making sure that everyone else did the same – as illustrated in the following story which also relates to this week’s Torah portion, Parshas Shoftim:
A Maggid (itinerant preacher) was invited to give a sermon at the shul of Reb Levi Yitzchak. The Rebbe sat there with rapt attention as the Maggid masterfully wove together fascinating parables, spectacular stories and lofty Torah insights, inspiring the masses to grow ever higher in their Avodas Hashem (connection to G-d). Then the Maggid started reproaching the people and listing a whole host of sins and indiscretions that they were committing and for which they needed to repent and change their ways. At this point, the Rebbe stood up and stopped the Maggid from going any further. He
explained his reason for doing so as follows: For so many centuries and millennia, the Satan has been trying to prosecute the Jewish people in front of G-d and to point out all their sins in the hope of destroying them. Yet G-d refuses to hear the Satan’s damning testimony and says to him: “I have already written in My Torah, ‘A single witness shall not stand up against any man for any iniquity or for any error, regarding any sin that he may commit; according to two witnesses or according to three witnesses shall a matter be confirmed’ (Deuteronomy 19:15), and you want to testify as a single witness against my children?!” And now, this Maggid, who is standing here and testifying the sins of the Jewish people can, G-d forbid, be joined together with the Satan to make two witnesses, so he must be stopped!
We are coming close to Rosh HaShanah, the Day of Judgment, when the Books of Life and Death will be opened in front of G-d and His Heavenly Court and our fate will be decided for the coming year, and we all want to do whatever we can to make sure that we are inscribed in the Book of Life. Let us take the advice of the Berditchever, the great “defense lawyer” of the Jewish people, who writes the following in his classic work Kedushas Levi on the first verse in this week’s Torah portion:
“G-d judges the Jewish people on the Day of Judgment with great compassion and kindness, but He requires that we do our part to arouse and deserve that compassion. So what can we do to arouse it? When we act kindly towards our fellow man and judge him favorably, looking only for the good in him, we will merit, in turn, that G-d will judge us favorably and only see the good that we have done …”
Let us take upon ourselves in this month of Elul, as we prepare for our impending court case on Rosh HaShanah, to see only the good in the people around us and not the evil, and may G-d inscribe us all in the Book of Life.