Rav Brazil: Getting to the Heart of the Question – Why We Criticize So Much


rav-shmuel-brazil-1By Rav Shmuel Brazil

Just this week, a yungerman approached me and asked why we find it so difficult to judge people favorably. Is it because we have preconceived notions and assumptions?

He then told me a story about himself which changed his outlook on people.

He had an older bochur friend who owned a pickup truck for his business. His friend was told that one of the reasons why shidduchim don’t seem to come his way is because when he picks his dates up to ride in his vehicle, it really doesn’t flatter them. So he bought a new fancy upper-end car. However, he decided that since he only uses it on dates, he did not want it to lie idle in the interim between shidduchim. So he gave it me to use until the time came up.

“So imagine, here I am, the one who goes in front of the tuition committee, and I plead to them that I am very tight with income. The next day, he sees me riding in this ostentatious vehicle and I could see the crazy look of amazement that was written all over his face. It was then I realized that even if the situation appears 90% on the negative side, with the verdict of guilty beyond any reasonable doubt, one is still encouraged to judge a person lekaf zechus because it is so very possible that you could never, ever, in your wildest dreams, concoct up what really happened, but it did.”

Then I went on to tell him my story. I was asked to host a divorced man for Shabbos. The man was about to propose to a divorced woman in my neighborhood on Sunday. During the tish that Friday night following the seudah, as the bochurim were banging on the table together with passionate singing, one of the leaves in the table broke. Nu, nu. What do you want from a yeshivishe hand-me-down set after being so weary from such battle fatigue?

Motzoei Shabbos, as my guest was about to leave, he said, “I want to be at your tish every Shabbos, so I am sending you my dining room set from Chicago, since I am about to be engaged and will not be using it anyway.”

Wellm what could I say? When it arrived, I saw that it was a magnificent set – something that I would not have dreamed of buying. One could understand the ‘uncomfortableness’ that I experienced every time the bochurim and yungeleit visited my tish. I found myself restating over and over again, “Oh no, this set I didn’t buy. Some rich guy from Chicago sent it to me because he ate over at my house for Shabbos.” In fact, one of my friends said, “Why didn’t you give him a ride in your yeshivishe car? Then he might have sent you his Lexus from Chicago!”

When you are the victim of those seemingly uneasy explainable situations, you fully understand why you must reciprocate and judge favorably. I told my friend that I really feel that if one was truly happy inside himself, which stems from emunah in Hashem, he would look favorably at others. When one is unhappy and down on himself, when one sees himself in a negative light, when one’s own middos are not in the state they are supposed to be on, then the inner anger and criticism are deflected to someone else – a spouse, child, friend, rebbi, a group or sect of people, an organization, an employee, the meshulach who knocks at your door, or even your dog….

After the crossing of the Yam Suf, the Yidden came to the place of Marah and they couldn’t drink the water there, because, the posuk says, “they were bitter.” Some meforshim explain that the word “they” is not referring to the waters, but rather to the people. When an individual is bitter inside, then anything or anybody he comes in contact with is bitter. It is as though he is wearing glasses that has a milk spot on the lens. Everything he sees has a stain of white in it.

One who always criticizes and finds faults in others is only covering up the shortcomings and failures that he has within himself. His middos are far from perfection and because of this imperfection he questions everyone – even Hashem. This concept is related by Rav Yechezkeil from Kozmir in a posuk in this week’s parsha: “And you should circumcise your hearts and your necks you should not stiffen any more.”  Rav Yechezkeil puts the comma in the reading of this posuk in a way that another message and teaching can be formulated. Read as follows: “You should circumcise the foreskin of your heart and neck.

Then you will not have any more questions.” The reason why we criticize and second guess people is because we have a heavy foreskin still lying over our hearts. Our middos are far from being of sterling nature. For the individual who possesses purified middos doesn’t even question Hashem, but rather accepts his lot and seeming misfortune with the emunah that ultimately it is all for his good.

Eliyahu Hanovi comes to every bris. The reason could be because every bris done to the external body symbolizes the similar bris that everyone must do on his heart. Eliyahu is hinted in the roshei taivos Teiku, which stands for Tishbi yetareitz kushyos ve’ibayos, that Eliyahu will remove all the unresolved questions. The milah of the heart, which is the tikkun of the middos, brings about the ridding oneself of his negativity and consequently of his kushyos and bashing of others.

The posuk [Tehillim 97] says, “Those with a straight heart possess happiness. The Targum translates this to mean a heart with answers. What the Targum is teaching us is that people who always seem to question the behavior of others are basically unhappy people. The person who does not feel the constant need to criticize and judge others in a bad light is a truly happy person, which is portrayed by a heart that is void of antagonism towards others.

Paroh, when he chased after the Yidden at the Yam Suf, said, “I will chase after them and I will divide the spoils with you.” What are the spoils that the enemies of Klal Yisroel desire to conquer from us?

For a goy to see a Yid sing with joy to his G-d even under subhuman torturous conditions became the worst agony for him to bear. What made the Germans crazy was the inexplicable overwhelming song and simcha that the Yidden burst out with at as they walked into the gas chambers to their deaths. They tried to break and crush this undaunted spirit of faith, but they were unsuccessful. Even during the most trying adversity, the Yid has no questions, only answers. The oppression and suffering has made the Yid’s heart as straight as an arrow and he is able to raise his voice in songs of emunah and bitachon till his last breath.

There was the old Jewish joke of the poor person who each day would get a handout from the rich businessman as he returned from work. One day, the businessman lost a sizeable sum of money in a deal. When the man stuck out his hand to receive his daily ration, the upset businessman snapped back “Today I am not giving you because I had a bad day.” The poor man, now insulted, retorted, “Just because you had a bad day, why should I suffer?”

Do we let Hashem suffer by not receiving our ruchniyus when things don’t work out the way we expected them to?  How about our spouse and  children? Should we shower them with our unhappiness so that they too will be able to share in our misery? Does our Shabbos table miss out the zemiros and our youngster’s devar Torah loses our focus because we are too busy sulking and soothing our pain and hurt?

Well, let’s stop being selfish and straighten out the middos and then we wouldn’t be so effected by the questions, for then we would have very few, if any at all.

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  1. Rabbi Brazil is a gevaldige yid who is always mechazek yidden through his niggunim kumzitzen and most importantly his torah and yeshiva. May he continue to bhave kochos ad meah v’esrim.
    P.S. R’ Brazil also has nisyonos and still dosen’t complain barabim and is mesameach yidden.

  2. With all due respect, these stories and not great examples to inspire me to be dan lkaf zechus.

    In both examples there was no reason to accept such ostentatious gifts. A simple “Thanks but no thanks” would have been much more appropriate.

  3. When I read your story, I felt sympathy for your friend who had to go out and buy a new car to impress his shidduchim ,because we live in such a materialistic society. The fact he was able to loan It to you when he wasn’t using it proves that to him it had no intrinsic value in of itself but only a means for a higher purpose. If you were given the items to use, apparently hashem wanted you to have these items to use. Maybe even so you could tell your story of don lechav zechut.