In Vayikra 19:15 the Torah states the words "B'Tzedek Tishpot Amisecha." Rashi learns from this pasuk that one should judge others "l'kaf z'chus" which is literally translated as "towards the scale of merit." To use an English expression, Rashi is stating that one should give his friend the benefit of the doubt.
The Gemara in Shabbos teaches that if one indoctrinates the principle of giving others the benefit of the doubt into his own life, Hashem will do the same when He judges that person. Rabbi Frand then asked in the name of the the Chafetz Chayim - how can Hashem give us the benefit of the doubt when He knows our thoughts?
Indeed, when one sees another take a questionable action, the viewer does not know the history behind the action. For example, the overwhelming majority of Subway restaurants are not kosher. If one sees another person eating a Subway sandwich on the train there are two possible assumptions: (1) the person went to one of the two kosher Subway stores in the New York area and purchases a kosher sandwich, or (2) the person is eating a not kosher sandwich.
As we do not know where the sandwich was purchased, we can give the person the benefit of the doubt and assume that the sandwich was purchased at the kosher Subway. However, Hashem knows exactly where the sandwich was purchased, so how does He give the person the benefit of the doubt?
Rabbi Frand answered by making reference to an expression about teachers - that some teachers are lenient graders. While one teacher may give full credit for an answer, another teacher might give partial or even no credit for an answer which is not 100% correct. Rabbi Frand then applied to this within the context of a Shmoneh Esreh where the person only had kavanah for the first two berachos and modim. Hashem could give the person who davened this tefillah credit for 3/19 of a Shmoneh Esreh. Or in the alternative, Hashem could give full credit for davening the Shmoneh Esreh, even though the kavanah was not 100%. If we are lenient in our grading of the acts of others, then we can be zocheh to have our acts graded on a lenient scale as well.
As part of his discussion of giving the benefit of the doubt, Rabbi Frand made reference to a story he had read about a Rabbi Sternhill who used to live in Baltimore. Many years ago there was a Rabbi who gave the hashgacha on a store in Baltimore. When the Rabbi passed away, Rabbi Sternhill attended the funeral. After the funeral, Rabbi Sternhill approached the owner of the store and asked whether Rabbi Sternhill could assume the role of providing the hashgacha. The owner of the store was taken aback - it was so soon after the funeral of the Rav Hamachshir, why is Rabbi Sternhill running to take over this position?
Ultimately, the store owner assented to Rabbi Sternhill's request. Some time later, the store owner approached Rabbi Sternhill to pay him for giving the hashgacha on the establishment. However, when he tried to give Rabbi Sternhill the money, Rabbi Sternhill told him to give it to the widow of the previous Rav Hamachshir.
At this point, the store owner understood why Rabbi Sternhill had been in such a rush to get the hashgacha job. Rabbi Sternhill was not looking to jump on new business. Instead, Rabbi Sternhill was trying to preserve a source of income for the widow before someone else came and tried to take the business for himself. Had the owner stayed with the assumption that Rabbi Sternhill was jumping on new business and not judged l'kaf z'cus, the results could have been devastating to the widow. However, since the man did give Rabbi Sternhill the benefit of the doubt, he was able to later see that Rabbi Sternhill's request was not motivated by avarice and instead was made for the right reason.
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