A 31 Day Benefit-of-the-Doubt Challenge

David and Tamar Sheinberg were engaged during Chanukah of 2019, with plans to marry on March 30th, 2020. But their plans were upended right after Purim that year when the Covid-19 pandemic struck, and the Israeli government started implementing limits on crowds. Taking no chances, the couple quickly moved to hold the wedding as soon as possible while they still could. They asked their friends to stay home and held a small but beautiful celebration for family only. As they sat down to enjoy the wedding feast, the celebration came to a halt when David’s brother-in-law ran into the hall to tell everyone that the police were outside and were about to come and shut the wedding down.

The bride and groom themselves went outside and tried to explain that the crowd was small, and that all was in accordance with current guidelines. But the police refused to listen; someone had called to report that guidelines were broken. To everyone’s shock, the police proceed to arrest the bride and groom themselves, detaining them for an hour and a half during their own wedding!

By the time they were released, the wedding was ruined. David had to gather some nearby yeshiva students to make a minyan so they could conclude the Sheva Brachos (Wedding Blessing Ceremony). David and Tamar were utterly devastated. The most special evening of their lives had been turned into a painful trauma.

Half a year passed, David and Tamar recovered and began living their life together. On the Friday before Yom Kippur of 2020, David received a phone call from his father, who told him that he had received a phone call from a certain yeshiva student who with a trembling voice had told him he had a confession to make: He was the one who had called the police that night. He admitted that he hadn’t bothered to find out how many guests were in attendance or whether any guidelines were violated; he had heard music playing and rushed to call the police. Now, he was wracked with guilt.

When David’s father asked why he chose to suddenly confess now, he explained that he is actively trying to get married and ever since that fateful night he hadn’t been offered even a single date. It seemed that there was a heavenly decree against him for what he had done, and now he wanted to apologize for ruining a new couple’s wedding and ask for their forgiveness. He realized that he had made a terrible mistake and desperately wanted to come clean through his heartfelt apology.

David looked at Tamar with his heart pounding. That terrible night came back to them, how they stood for an hour and a half in the cold, surrounded by police as though they had robbed a bank, how all the food was left to cool on the table, without anyone to eat it. His pain and anger overcame him, and he shook his head no. They weren’t prepared to say the words, “We forgive you.”

Would you be willing to forgive the person who ruined your wedding? Do you have the strength to give the benefit of the doubt to someone who really doesn’t deserve it?

We gain a profound perspective on how we view others when we reflect on the fascinating way in which G-d views us. G-d’s judgment of each one of us during the High Holidays is both intense and incredibly insightful:

“On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed – how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die; who will die after a long life and who before his time; who by water and who by fire, who by sword and who by beast, who by famine and who by thirst, who by upheaval and who by plague, who by strangling and who by stoning. Who will rest and who will wander, who will live in harmony and who will be harried, who will enjoy tranquility and who will suffer, who will be impoverished and who will be enriched, who will be degraded and who will be exalted.”

We all desperately wish to be signed and sealed in The Book of Life for a “Sweet and Good New Year.” We ask G-d to ‘Inscribe us in the Book of Merits’ and to “list us amongst the righteous.”

But when we think about it for a moment, it seems absurd! Why would G-d judge us favorably simply because we asked Him too? What kind of judge would delete the crime just because the defendant asked him nicely? Beyond absurd, it’s actually a chutzpah! Is justice blind?!

The secret to the perfection of Divine Justice is hinted at in the High Holiday liturgy when we affirm that, “Each person’s verdict is written in their own handwriting.” What this means is that G-d judges us exactly in the same way that we judge others. Whether G-d will be forgiving and magnanimous or strict and petty is entirely dependent upon how we treated others in that exact situation. Thus, the verdict of our own judgment is indeed written in our own handwriting!

Instead of judging people by their past, stand up and help them repair their future. Most people who criticize others haven't even tried what their victims have failed at. Don’t judge others simply because they sin differently to you.

Our request to G-d to inscribe us in the Book of Merits on the High Holidays is not a cold-call solicitation. We’re asking G-d to endow us with the courage and character to be able rise above our instinct to criticize others and to give them the benefit of the doubt. When we do so for them, the outcome for ourselves will automatically be the same!

Judging others is easy because it distracts us from the need to judge ourselves. Carl Jung said that “Thinking is difficult, that’s why most people judge.” But if we think that we’re deflecting by shining the light on other people’s shortcomings instead of our own, G-d isn’t so easily fooled. In His perfect Justice system, G-d sees us through our own eyes: Judging a person doesn’t define who they are. It defines who you are! You can get to know someone much better by the things they say about others, than by the things others say about them.

Take a look at the inspirational sequel in the rest of the story of the “Ruined Wedding”:

That night in Shul was Friday Night, when David read the words of the opening song of Shabbos “Yedid Nefesh Av Harachaman (G-d is the beloved of my soul),” he thought, “G-d is the source of good, and He is only good. If it was destined for our wedding to be ruined in this fashion, it must have been for our benefit.”

That Shabbat, David and Tamar talked it over. When Shabbat ended, David called his father and asked him to pass on the message to that yeshiva student that they forgave him with a full heart.

The day after Yom Kippur, in the evening, David was building their sukkah behind their apartment. Tamar was due home from work any minute, when his sister-in-law came in hysteria and announced that Tamar had been in a car accident. David’s heart started to pound, he was anxious to find out the condition of his wife and, only he knew, the condition of the new fetus in her womb—they had just learned that she was pregnant.

David rushed to the emergency room, where he found Tamar sitting on a chair. Thank G-d, she was okay! The doctor said, “Angels of kindness were watching over you. Seeing this crash, there was no way that Tamar and her fetus would have emerged unscathed as they did.” It was a miracle.

David and Tamar remembered how they forgave that yeshiva student just days earlier, and suddenly they understood: the whole wedding incident had been arranged by Heaven from the beginning, to give them the opportunity to be among those who are “inscribed in the Book of Merits”—to overlook what that young man had done, to judge him favorably. By forgiving him, they had judged themselves favorably, and opened a heavenly channel of blessing and salvation for Tamar and her baby.

This month we observe the Holy Day of Yom Kippur. We’d like to challenge you to prepare yourself spiritually for Yom Kippur in a way that you’ve never done before: Can you take upon yourself a 31-Day Benefit-of-the-Doubt Challenge? This means that each day of this month of October, you make sure to judge at least one person favorably, trying every which way to give them the benefit of the doubt. Doing so will force G-d’s hand over you and your loved ones too, to overlook all your imperfections and focusing exclusively upon your merits!

Don't judge me by my past. I don’t live there anymore. Every person you meet is fighting a battle that you know nothing about. Be kind to every single person. Let's take the bull by the horns this year and ensure a year filled with health, happiness and success for us all!


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