Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Judging G-d Favorably


The Mishna in Pirkei Avot – Ethics of our Fathers – teaches us to judge people favourably. The idea is a simple one. If we have never lived the lifestyle of another, how can we come to suddenly make judgments about them – in anything? It seems too obvious an issue to actually ignore, but come what may – the test is huge. It’s easy to judge ourselves favourably at all times, but when it comes to another, we can think up billions of reasons as to why they should have or could have done things differently. It’s a tough test – make no mistake!

It’s not the subject of this article however. This article takes things one step further. Imagine for a moment the idea of judging another favourably – because you have never lived their lives and therefore don’t know why they have done what they have – to coming to judge G-d Himself favourably! Who could ever have lived G-d’s life?! Besides, what does it mean to judge G-d favourably?

We’ve all heard the famous story. In fact the entire story has turned itself into a cliché. It goes something like this:

When something “bad” happens to one, one must always think that G-d does everything for the good. The story – Ploni Almoni is getting ready for his flight to Timbuktu. It’s a 5am flight, and he’d had a late night and was even a little tipsy! He got some 2 hours sleep before waking suddenly to realise his flight is to leave in 30 minutes time!!! He gets dressed, and “flies” out of his apartment directly into the waiting taxi – which then speeds off faster than the destined plane.

Ploni arrives at the airport with just 2 minutes before the plane is about to take off, and begins ranting and raving to all and sundry that the plane must wait – HE’S ARRIVED!!! But, the pilots have another agenda – not to mention schedule! And the plane takes off…

Within moments of taking flight, something goes horribly wrong and there’s a disaster. Of course all this while, Ploni has been screaming the most unmentionable “French words” possible. He becomes angry with G-d Himself for allowing him to become drunk – for allowing him to oversleep – for allowing the plane to take off – without him! Suddenly… within moments, his attitude changes as he realises his life is spared…

This story is of course a true one and there are many who can testify to such incidents happening to themselves. How many stories became known of those who for some odd reason simply never made it to work on September 11 2001?! We can imagine well their feelings when they missed work – both before… and after the disaster.

I suppose it’s all about judging G-d favourably and knowing that He knows about everything better than we do. And when we miss that all important bus, plane, train or taxi – that there’s really a good reason why it happened! Our problem is in trying to work out what the disaster could possibly have been had we actually made our plans a “reality.” An impossible task, as nobody can ever know what would be – if it hadn’t been! So when we miss the bus, can we ever tell if something negative was meant for us and that this was for our best? Can we tell that even if nothing apparent good happened to us during this time – that this was *still* for our best?!

But we must. Judging another favourably is tough… but judging G-d favourably is infinitely harder. And yet, it’s the corner stone of absolute faith!

I think I got a dose of my own medicine recently. In fact yesterday it seemed to all come together. I’d like to share my story with you as crazy as my thinking had sounded way back then.

Recently I had joined a great site on the Internet known as Liveperson. It’s a site that allows one to act as an expert of sorts to help people solve their problems. I chose the role of Rabbi to teach over Judaism, Torah and anything Jewish. Baruch Hashem, people must have liked the photograph, and clicked on my name a few times and I had some really successful sessions, teaching others and helping them with some general Jewish questions. The great thing about this site is that it allows you to choose your own income, which means you get paid a per-minute charge of whatever you like. You can choose up to $20 per-minute (if you feel you’re that good!) Actually there are some who do – and who are successful with this too. (So much for those who believe that the harder one breaks one’s body, the more one is likely to be able to support oneself!)

Business on this site had slowed down a little. I keep my software loaded whenever I’m by my computer and hope and pray someone will call when I am available so that I can generate additional income. But nobody had called on that particular day…

It just happened to be that on the day of the funeral of Rabbi Gabi and Rivki Holzberg HYD, just about morning time (when I still had time) a call came through! As things turned out, I had tried another logic and had increased my “per-minute charge” to a much larger amount. And a call came through!

The caller was adamant that he needed to understand more about G-d. He became very philosophical, but wanted to know the truth. He was upset by a number of points I had made to him – especially those concerning that I couldn’t actually show him G‑d in the flesh. In fact, he tried his hardest to prove to me that the whole of religion and G-d was a man-made thing, and that we actually all come from frogs, fish, apes, and a variety of other interesting creatures that he came up with.

I didn’t mind. I was being paid per minute. I was doing my best to point him in the right direction. He was certainly paying (the system doesn’t allow talking without paying. It’s clearly visible.) And he wanted more. We had been talking for an hour, and while there was much time before the funeral, we had decided to leave early as we were getting a ride in. Naturally I felt a pulling telling me to stay longer. We were by no means late for the funeral and here I was making a small fortune. Needless to say, the Mitzvah of accompanying those who have passed on was far greater than a few dollars, and so we left. I do remember mumbling to myself quite a bit that I could have gained a lot more money had I stayed talking to him. It would have helped with the rent! He certainly wanted to continue the discussion and was apparently enjoying it. At the same time, I may have actually helped him to “see the light”, so talking a bit longer (and making a little extra money) would have done us all some good.

I was looking forward to my latest check from Liveperson, although it never arrived. I checked the site out and saw written next to this thief’s name that he had declined the charge that had appeared on his credit card! When I confronted Liveperson about this, they simply explained that these things happen and that they cannot make a person pay for something if they argue about the credit card charge. (Perhaps they base this on the possibility that someone was using a stolen card and the owner therefore claimed he had not used it.)

The importance of the Mitzvah was far more important than a few dollars. But could it have been possible that I was a little upset that the call had come just when I was about to leave? After all, this thief had wanted to chat the entire afternoon. I could well have made a substantial amount of money. Of course, in reality, I would have actually lost a few hours of time – wasted, on someone not worthy to be told the time of day.

Judging G-d favourably would have helped me before I had even begun the conversation. It would have made me realise that in fact, what would have been better, would have been for the connection to be dropped and the call ended – immediately. I would have certainly been upset at having lost an income. But obviously, I would never have known that the income was never in the coming!

What of dropped connections?! Actually Liveperson does not have a good connection in Israel – although they are based here. Many times what happens is that the call does drop. When this occurs one may well lose the client and be unable to continue talking further – causing again, a loss of income. Could there be any good in this at all?!

Yesterday, everything came together. I had a repeat client contact me again. We spoke for some time and the call did in fact drop. I was really upset about this, as once again, this meant I would lose further income. What I didn’t know… is that when this happened, the client wrote in a comment about my service, complimenting me and thanking me…. The client joined up again, and when the call ended, made *another* comment – giving me two reviews in one day – both good!

It seems that even though the call dropped and it appeared that I had lost out – again – that in fact I had only gained.

None of us can understand things when they don’t seem to go right for us. But if we were to know what might have been hidden by “the road not taken” – we might suddenly realise that in fact however the situation has turned out – it is indeed for the good. What often looks like good, may well turn out not to be. And what often looks like the opposite – may well in fact have truly been “a blessing in disguise.”

Judging G-d favourably is probably our best ticket into helping us cope with the challenges of life – when they just don’t seem good. And let us not be fooled by those challenges when everything seems to simply go our way. Instead… just let G-d.

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