Dr Judith Guedalia

Erev Taanit Esther 2009 - The Eighth 'Yahrzeit': Don't Judge Anyone

By Dr. Judith Guedalia and Chaim K. © 2009

Chaim comes rolling into the office, and no sooner has he parked his motorized wheelchair he says: "Hevei Dan Et Kol Adam LeKaf Zechut - in the vernacular, 'give everyone the benefit of the doubt.' Look it up and see what you can find on it, I will look too."



This year's fast day was the eighth anniversary of the cataclysmic moment when Chaim K., then a 14-year-old adolescent was walking home at midnight from his pre-Pesach matzah baking job, was run over by a car.  Close to four years ago, when we first started meeting, he spoke of what he knew from others about the accident (he remembered nothing).   "I had marks on my shoulders from the tires, almost all of my bones were broken - and of course, my neck, my spinal cord.  I clinically died six times, but each time they succeeded to bring me back to life- to this life!"


We discussed the results of our research on the statement he cited from the Sayings of Our Fathers (Pirkei Avot) in our next meetings.


The period before and immediately after the Fast of Esther is one fraught with conflicted feelings.  Fortunately, we have a day of space between "the day the old-me died" and Purim, as we live in Jerusalem, a city that has had a wall around it since the times of Yehoshua/Joshua bin Nun.  In other words, Jerusalem is one of the world's cities (Shushan in today's Iran is another, and possibly Hebron, Haifa, Tiberias, Jaffa, Lod, Gaza, Acre, Safed and Shechem in Israel are others) where Megillat Esther is read on the 15th of Adar and not immediately after the Fast of Esther (14th of Adar).

 After giving me this "job" - (I understood it more as a "charge to the jury" than an "order") - Chaim told this story:


"A year and a half before my accident, we were living in an integrated neighborhood - secular and religious; we had a neighbor, a young guy of 24 who started to become more religious and, as his family was hiloni (secular) we kind-of 'adopted' him into our family.  He joined us for Shabbat meals, went to shul with us on Shabbat and holidays, and ate in our sukkah, etc.  One day, that same person beat me up, not only hit me, he broke my ribs - really, he actually he broke two of my ribs!  He thought he had a reason to hit me, but nothing can justify such a beating of a 13-year-old kid or anyone of any age, for that matter.


"After that, I didn't report it or complain to anyone, as he was a friend of the family. He said he was sorry, and my family smoothed it over as an isolated incident and pushed it out of their memory.  


"I didn't forget.  I was very angry with him and unable to forgive him even years after it happened.  Every Yom Kippur I forgave every person in the world, but he was the only one I was unable to forgive.


"When Yom Kippur arrived after the accident in which I was run over, my brothers asked me if I forgave the person who ran me over and ruined my whole life. It was very hard but in the end, I said, 'Yes, I forgive him.' 


"I put a curse on the guy who beat me, that he never should get married or have children.   I felt that the flash of anger and uncontrolled physical aggression he showed me, should stop with him and not be allowed to be passed on to his children.


"A few years went by, I matured and became more sophisticated in my thinking.  He asked to be forgiven, yet again, and we did 'make peace.'  He told me then, that when he beat me up he was under the influence of drugs - and not the prescription type of drugs either! However, it was almost five years later when I forgave him and blessed him that he should find his Basherte and have a family.


"Last night, I was at his wedding!!!  We danced, I in my wheelchair and he in his hatan outfit.  He has come a very long way; he is fully religious, learns in a yeshiva all day, and is truly a changed man.  I blessed him that he would have a son in this year. And he said to me that he only prays that he can come to my wedding in the near future.  It was a very emotional moment."


I didn't understand the connection Chaim was making until I saw the following comments on the Mishnaic statement: Rav Nachman (of Bratislava) is quoted as saying that the manifest meaning is obvious: give everyone the benefit of the doubt, the latent meaning being: give even a guilty person the benefit of the doubt, or judge him/her in a neutral fashion.


Another commentary I found on a website, (http://www.yeshiva.org.il) was that the latent meaning is: "Don't critically judge yourself, give yourself the benefit of the doubt."


"What made you change your mind?" I asked. Chaim's response was:


 "I know he is really a good guy, I am happy he got married and that his explanation that he was under the influence of drugs, and his promise that it would never happen again, forced me to see him in this positive light.  I don't think I am so powerful, that my 'curse' had the effect of his not finding a woman to marry, but I do think that until he was ready to admit to himself and to me that he allowed drugs into his body and the affect they had on his actions and behavior, he was not really ready to become a responsible adult and be married and have children.


"I judged him without knowing that he wasn't fully responsible for his actions."


Don't you think someone who engages in legal or illegal substance abuse is at the very least responsible for taking the drugs?  What do you mean he was not responsible?


"He was a Tinok Shenishba (literally, "captured infant" which is a Talmudic term used in reference to an individual who sins inadvertently as a result of having been raised without an appreciation for the rules of Judaism when s/he was able to fully understand the consequences), and this happens in any family, religious or not, Jewish and non-Jewish.  The point here being that he did take responsibility and rehabilitated himself fully." 


Our time is up, and as Chaim K. leaves the room I feel that he too had the distance of time and experience to understand that while critical thinking opens the world to you, critical judgment poisons your mind and sours your soul.  Today maybe, he is able to judge the driver of the car on that dark night eight years ago, and almost more importantly, judge himself less critically.  May we all benefit in such an altruist fashion from the Sayings of Our Fathers.



Tags: Benefit of Doubt | Chaim K. | Jewish Press