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The symbol of the month of Tishrei is a pair of scales. How fitting are the scales of justice to this month! On the Day of Judgment, Rosh Hashanah, our good deeds and mitzvos (commandments) are weighed against our sins. If we have more mitzvos than sins, we are inscribed for another year of life. Obviously, this is not a quantitative evaluation, that is, the number of offenses verses the number of good deeds. The judgment takes into account the quality of our deeds. A mitzvah which is performed despite extreme difficulties will outweigh a number of minor misdemeanors. So too do mitzvos done with enthusiasm and warmth or with personal courage, gain us greater favor than ordinary, run-of-the mill good deeds.
There is a more profound aspect to the scales of justice. The mitzvos I perform are mine; so, too, are the misdeeds, mine alone. I am the one being placed on the scales, and my being is divided into its good and not-so-good components.
But I am not alone. My friends and relatives are all subject to the same process. It follows, then, that no one is all black or all white, one hundred per cent good or one hundred per cent evil. We’re not even gray, for that would imply a mixture of black and white. Rather, we’re spotted, like a leopard. We have some areas that are sparkling white, and others that we would prefer not to describe.
There are shadows and there are points of light. Our goal in life is to cultivate the light, to expand it and to make it brighter each year. At the same time, we endeavor to minimize the areas of shadow and darkness, so that when our deeds are weighed, the scales will tip in our favor.
The same situation applies when we presume to judge our fellow man. How quick we are to pass judgment: “He’s not much of a _________!” Or, “She’s such a _________! I can’t stand her!”
Such judgments focus only on one aspect of our friend’s personality. It may be quite true that he or she suffers from the shortcoming specified, but is this the whole picture? Would we want Heaven to judge us by just one aspect of our actions? Do we judge ourselves that way, or do we see the overall picture, the areas of light together with the shadows?
Does our friend not have positives together with the negatives? Why do we concentrate on the shadows, in his case, while we focus on the positive areas of our own personality?
In the Mishnah, our Sages teach us: “Judge the entire man favorably” (Ethics of the Fathers, Chapter 1:6). Even if your friend has done something which is unforgivably reprehensible, condemn his deed, and not the person himself. Surely he has done other acts which are worthy of praise. While we may not whitewash wrongdoing, neither should we dismiss someone as worthless without considering his positive deeds. No one is all black, or all white. If we remember to view the entire person, not just one particular aspect (which may have rubbed us the wrong way), we will find that there is usually far more white than black.
And, once we judge others favorably, we can pray that Heaven will judge us the same way, that we may be inscribed for a year of good health, blessing and peace for all Israel.