Judaism, it should be noted, does not tell us not to judge. We aren’t encouraged to do it, but the sages recognized the inevitability of human behavior.
Rather, we are told that if we judge, we must judge favorably.
That guy with a kippah walking into McDonalds? He probably needed to use the bathroom. The orthodox woman with non-kosher food in her cart? Most likely she was buying for a non-Jewish neighbor.
While it sometimes feels like a stretch, the results can be transformative. No longer are you saddled with the weight of neigborhood hipocracy. Skepticism can take a back seat. Suspicion gets the day off. And in that freedom you are invited to take people and situations at face value. Better than face value, in fact. Because when the person them self says they don’t measure up in some way, it is still incumbent on us to find the good, the positive.
The other night at a school open-house, we were filing out to the respective teacher’s rooms. One person said “I wasn’t paying attention. Does anyone know Mr. Smith’s classroom is?” Then they added, “I guess I fail orientation.” A woman next to me replied, “I’m sure you were paying attention. You just didn’t remember.” and then she gave directions. I could tell from her tone that her comment – about not remembering – was said it in all seriousness.
While judging favorably is a year-round mitzvah, there is an interesting facet of this particular to the month on Elul, where part of our preparations for the Days of Awe include asking others to forgive us, and in turn forgiving others when we are asked. In those moments, there is no commandment of investigation, validation, or cross-examination. When being asked to forgive another, we are commanded to judge favorably.
So should the judgement go for us, on the day when we stand before the True Judge.