Rosh Hashana, the Day of Judgement, is once again upon us. Let us get a few facts out of the way. Firstly, it is true that Hashem will be judging us on this consecrated day, but we also judge ourselves and others constantly throughout our lives. Sometimes, we may be very critical of ourselves (and others) because we have high expectations and only want the “best of the best.” Most of the time, this leads to anxiety within us and uneasy feelings towards others. However, there is a proper way to judge ourselves and others. Let us begin to elaborate on this matter.
It is critical (no pun intended) that we use our implement of judgement for good. Our Sages teach us to “judge everyone favorably.” (Avot 1:6) There is also a reward of “one who judges others favorably, is himself judged favorably.” (Shabbat 127b) We see that Hashem’s judgement is connected to our judgement. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov z”l further explains this concept; when we judge another person favorably, we actually can cause that person to be judged favorably from the heavens (shamayim). Nonetheless, we tend to overlook our Sages advice “not judge your friend until you reach his level” (Avot 2:5). We must always ask ourselves, “Would I have really acted any differently if I was in his situation?” This concept implores us to judge sinners and our enemies favorably. By constantly striving to find a positive attribute in someone who is distant from us, we enable ourselves to overcome strife and tension easier.
Another very important aspect of using our judgement properly is to judge ourselves. Here, Rabbi Nachman imparts that we must also find the virtuous points in ourselves, especially when we feel dejected or unhappy. We must recall the times that we spent an extra moment immersed in Torah study or involved in an act of chesed. One should ask themselves, “Did I do something good today?” We cannot allow ourselves to linger in depression. For some, simply remembering that you are a Jew is also a worthy element. We cannot permit past failures to lead us into sadness. We must catch ourselves from falling into the habit of beating ourselves up emotionally, by focusing on our decent components. Rabbi Nachman would often note, “There is no such thing as giving up!” This theme certainly denotes never giving up on ourselves. Some may doubt themselves and begin to reflect on the times that they sinned and decide that Hashem no longer takes pride in them anymore. This may lead one to slack in their service of or desire to serve Hashem. Others might say to themselves, “If I’m not going to serve Hashem like the Baba Sali ztz”l, then there is no point of trying.” Rabbi Nachman emphasizes that Hashem takes pride in every Jew, no matter what he has done and no matter how far he has tumbled. “Every person must say that the world was created for me.” (Sanhedrin 37a)
A great tool that Rabbi Nachman speaks about is the concept of starting over. Part of judging yourself favorably is to allow yourself to start your service of Hashem anew. Restart and begin serving Hashem the best you can from this moment onward. Let the past be gone and just focus on the present. Today never existed and never will exist again; let us seize the moment. Rabbi Nachman relates that people think forgetfulness is a detriment, but it really is a great advantage. If we never forgot our wrongdoings, we would never be able to serve the Almighty afresh. Therefore, forgetfulness is very helpful. Rabbi Tzadok of Lublin z”l explains that Hashem keeps his own Torah. There is a halacha that one may not remind a baal teshuva (one who repents) of his sins as this will cause severe suffering. Therefore, Rabbi Tzadok relates that Hashem truly forgives us when we pardon ourselves and forget our past. Then, Hashem will not remind us of our sins because we have already atoned. Our Creator will truly forgive and forget our sins.
On a personal note, my self-criticism was a struggle that held me back from staying motivated and strong in my service of Hashem. I used to judge myself harshly and find myself unhappy with my mitzvot. Once appreciating the enormous concept of starting over and finding the upright points in myself, I have had so much more contentment and liveliness in my service of Hashem.
There was a tale told of a fierce fire that swept through the town of Breslov. Reb Natan z”l (the main disciple of Rabbi Nachman) saw one of the homeowners going through the rubble of his demolished home. The proprietor kept moving around debris desperately trying to find anything that remained from his prized possessions. Reb Natan z”l elucidated that we must learn from this landowner not give up hope. Moreover, we must also learn from him how to look through the “destroyed” parts of our lives and find a “good point” that survived the “fire.” We must collect the positive ideas and make a fresh start. May we have the merit to pray to Hashem that He should give us the ability to judge others favorably and to see the favorable qualities in ourselves. May we all merit to be written for a sweet new year and see the coming of the full redemption this year, Amen.
By Rabbi Tomer Zino
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