Judge with Generosity: Become a Melody

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“You have to judge each person generously…Even one who is completely bad, you need to seek out and to find within that person some small bit of good, that bit where she is not bad. By this means, when you find that bit of good, and judge her generously, you actually raise her up to the level of merit…” Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav*

Rabbi Nachman (1772–1810) makes the bold claim that by being generous in our evaluations of others, we can help raise people up, and restore their souls. Whether or not you believe that we have that kind of power, it is certain that searching for the good in each other is healing for our own souls.
Rabbi Nachman implores us to seek out even “a dot of goodness” in the other person, as each one of us has both goodness and “wickedness” within.

Perhaps another way of saying this is that we need to give people the benefit of the doubt, and not jump to conclusions about each other’s motives.

Assume the best.

Hopefully, we all have people in our lives who give us this leeway as this kind of energy is tremendously uplifting and sustaining. When we are around people who express confidence in who we are and our basic goodness, it does help raise us up — and helps us to be more of who we already are and maybe even better people.
Going even further, Rabbi Nachman teaches that it is equally important to judge ourselves generously.

We are poised to begin the Hebrew month of Elul (this Sunday September 4) which is the month PRIOR to the Jewish Soul-Cleansing Days (otherwise known as the High Holy Days.)

It’s a month where we are encouraged to do intense self-reflection.

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Have we been true to our soul’s calling?

Have we been the best spouse/parent/friend/steward of the earth that we can be?

We get this once-a-year opportunity to dust off the schmutz (Yiddish for “smudges”) on our souls and begin again.

Actually, this gesture is available to us ANY time during the year, but at the High Holidays, we join the entire Jewish world in this powerful activity.

While usually the self-reflection focuses on where we have gone astray over the past year, Rebbe Nachman reminds us to call to mind our own goodness.

He says,

“You need to seek out and to find within yourself some small bit of good….By seeking out that little bit even in yourself and judging yourself generously, you show yourself that that is who you are. That’s all you need to find: just the smallest bit, a small point of goodness within your actions.”

As you begin the process of self-examination leading up to the High Holy Days during the month of Elul, perhaps you can ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you assume the best in others in your work and home and volunteer communities,
  • Do you judge too quickly or unfairly?
  • Do you search out the goodness in yourself, or are you too self-critical?

Rabbi Nachman concludes his teaching by proposing that when you gather the little dots of goodness, they can become your own unique niggun (a song without words.) And that this niggun actually brings you to the point where you can begin to pray.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if in this month of Elul, we can practice seeing the good in each other and ourselves, so that when we enter the High Holy Days, we come prepared to hear the melodies representing the best in others and in ourselves?

  • Likkutei MoHaRa’N 282, translated by Rabbi Toba Spitzer, based on a translation by Rabbi Arthur Green

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