This is NOT a new idea. It’s something you can hear mentioned in almost any conversation about the word “judge” that occurs in a Jewish context. I am certain I’m not the only person to invoke the idea in today’s #BlogElul series across the internet.
However, that makes it no less compelling, and so I’m repeating it here.
One of the words for the act of praying is “tefilla”, which is derived from the word “hitpalel”.
But hitpalel doesn’t literally mean “to pray”. It means “to judge”. Specifically, it is a reflexive verb, a verb which points back at the speaker. “Hitpalel”means “to judge yourself”
To engage in prayer is to perform the ultimate reflection on and evaluation of the self.
The tragedy is that we are often our own harshest critic. We stand in judgement of our current state or past deeds, and find ourselves wanting.
But the Torah has very clear rules when it comes to judgement. We are commanded to judge favorably. We are told we must always be ready to give the benefit of the doubt, to check and double-check that the accused had sufficient warning, education, and opportunity to repent. We do not believe the testimony of one witness, there must be two. If a beit din is unanimous in a decision to convict, that conviction is thrown out because there was obviously bias.
With that in mind, the next time (hopefully today, but if not then as soon as you are able, and I hope and wish that time comes soon.) you pray, remember that as you judge yourself, you are commanded by Torah to give yourself the benefit of the doubt, the benefit of second chances.
You are commanded to judge favorably.