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D'varim/Deuteronomy 16:18 You shall set for yourselves judges and officers in all your gates
Rashi comments that both judges and officers are to be appointed, and distinguishes between the function of the judge - who passes judgement - and the office - who is responsible for seeing that the verdict is accepted and implemented according to the judge's instructions. It is necessary to separate judgement from enforcement: the judge so that he can listen clearly to the case and render a righteous verdict without partiality; the officer so that he can see that the judgement is applied properly and the judge's authority upheld without needing to be concerned as to whether the decision is correct.
We often find ourselves in the position of being judge, jury and executioner, not to mention prosecuting attorney, in our relationships with other people. Someone says or does something that offends us, or we see some attitude or action that we think is wrong or unworthy. Instantly, without even pausing for breath, we condemn, we judge other peoples' words and behaviour. Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan of Radin, in his two major works Sefer Chofetz Chaim and Sefer Shemirat HaLashon, speaks of the value of judging favourably. He said, "The pathways of merit/explanation will never be closed to one who wants to judge favourably." Developing the habit of judging favourably requires that we slow down in our reactions, consider the reason why people should say or do something unusual or out of character and, if possible, provide an excuse for their seemingly strange behaviour.
Speaking to the multitude, Yeshua says, "Do not judge according to appearances, but judge with righteous judgement" (John 7:24, NASB), echoing Moshe's exhortation, "Justice, only justice, you must pursue" (D'varim 16:20, CJB). It is not a case of not making judgements, or not exercising discernment, but of making correct judgements. Yeshua spoke of the criteria for making decisions: "You will recognise them by their fruit. Can people pick grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? Likewise, every healthy tree produces good fruit, but a poor tree produces bad fruit" (Matthew 7:16-17, CJB). But, Yeshua points out, we are to judge with compassion and fairly, making allowance for circumstances, "for the way you judge others is how you will be judged; the measure with which you measure out will be used to measure to you" (Matthew 7:2, CJB).
In our lives we constantly have to make judgements: between real investment opportunities or scams; over safe people to mind our children; which friends and acquaintances to trust with personal confidences; even to which ministries to support. G-d asks us to judge righteously.
Further Study: Matthew 7:1-5; Isaiah 11:1-5
Application: If you are sometimes hasty to judge and condemn other people, today would be a good time to ask G-d to help you slow down and consider things more carefully and see people through His eyes rather than rushing to judgement.
© Jonathan Allen, 2004
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