By R' Dani Staum
Although we may not want to admit it, there are certain brachos of Sh’moneh Esrei that seem to resonate with us more deeply than others. The brachos in which we ask Hashem for health, livelihood, and deliverance from pain are probably ones we focus on the most, as those are all things we feel we constantly need.
Perhaps the brachah that resonates the least is that of Hashivah Shofteinu, the prayer that Hashem restore our judges and judicial system. While we definitely await the return of the Sanhedrin, we tend to feel that the prayer for the return of our judges isn’t as urgent and pressing as the other prayers. After all, most of us aren’t judges and don’t have to adjudicate any pressing matters.
Or are we?
Rabbi Shimshon Pincus zt”l noted that, in fact, every individual is a judge every day and throughout his day. We are constantly deliberating, making decisions, and judging situations. But more profoundly, we often judge people and decide how we should proceed in our interactions with them. As parents, we constantly judge our children; and in our jobs, we constantly judge potential clients and business situations. As spouses, siblings, children, neighbors, and friends, we pass judgment on the actions and the intentionality of those we are closest with, and decide how to proceed based on our conclusions. It is those conclusions that often cause rifts and painful disagreements, or draw us closer.
Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl shlita relates that someone once asked him how he could judge a neighbor favorably, when he was quite sure he had seen him commit overt sins. Rabbi Nebenzahl poignantly replied, “Why do you have to judge him? Are you his rabbi? Is there anything you can accomplish by judging him?”
We take it so for granted that we judge, that it doesn’t even occur to us that it’s not our place to always decide matters relating to other people’s lives.
A family friend related that her family is going through a very hard time because her son is OTD (Off The Derech). They suffer ongoing anxiety about his future, fear for his daily welfare, and anguish over his current lifestyle. They also must exercise incredible restraint to be loving and accepting of him, even as they fear for the poor life decisions he has made. They also have to contend with the anguish of shattered dreams and hopes, aside from trying to shield their other children from making this child’s same mistakes. But, she noted, the worst of it all is the judgment she feels from friends, relatives, and neighbors. The looks, and sometimes even verbalized condemnation and critique of the decisions they made and make, causes the situation to be that much harder.
She dolefully noted that when a family is stricken with a sick child, chas v’shalom, the community bonds together in such a special and loving manner. There are numerous programs and chesed organizations that help the family cope during that painful and challenging time. But when a family has an OTD child, those programs are largely absent. Instead, there is added shame and judgment heaped upon the already suffering family.
Single divorced parents, who struggle mightily to try to maintain some semblance of normalcy for their children, endure similar challenges. While widows and widowers often receive deserved sympathy, divorcees often feel judged and distanced. There is almost an unverbalized feeling of “Maybe if you weren’t so stubborn” or “Maybe if you prioritized your kids more, you wouldn’t be in this mess!”
Older singles often must contend with comments from others about why they aren’t married yet.
Then there’s the old issue of the stigma of mental illness. It’s not enough that people suffer the discomfort, and challenge of mental illness, but they also have to have the added indignity of being judged by those who are convinced that they understand it all and are therefore qualified to offer advice, or judge the situation.
Rav Yoylish, the Satmar Rebbe, once called a chasid of his who lived in Miami, Florida, to find out information about a certain divorced widow who lived there. The Rebbe was trying to set up a shidduch for her and he wanted his chasid to give him some information about her. The chasid was excited to help his Rebbe and he replied that he knew who she was because she lived right down the block from him, and he would be happy to find out any information the Rebbe wanted to know. To his surprise, there was silence on the line, which was followed with what sounded like sniffling; it sounded like the Rebbe was crying. The chasid was beside himself. “What did I say, Rebbe? If the Rebbe needs the information sooner, I’ll call back in five minutes.”
The Rebbe replied, “How can you call yourself a chasid of mine? There’s a divorced woman who lives down the block from you and you don’t know basic information about her? You never invited her and her family for a Shabbos s’udah? You never inquired whether she needed anything? How can you consider yourself a chasid of mine?”
Perhaps this year we can try to concentrate more when we recite the brachah of Hashiveinu. We should have in mind that Hashem should help us judge properly in all those situations throughout our day when we must draw conclusions and decide how to proceed. But even more profoundly, we should daven that Hashem return the real judges of our nation, those who have the ability and authority to pass true judgment. Until then, we should have the wisdom and humility to stop passing judgment on others, unless it’s our place and responsibility.
When we act as proper judges, we can hope that the celestial courts will judge us accordingly as well.