Shelach-Lecha: Half Your Cup Runneth Over.

Are you a “glass is half full” person or a “glass is half empty” person?  And if the latter, is that anyone’s business but your own?

American law does not seek to govern attitude, but Jewish law certainly does. Jewish law's aim is much more than restraining us from harming others.  It requires us to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your G-d.”  [Micah 6:8].  These require a proper attitude, and developing and maintaining that attitude requires constant practice.

Here are three “challenges” that I encountered – and botched -- in just the past few days:

1.  I was waiting for an important, scheduled phone call.  The designated time arrived and my phone rang, but the caller-ID showed an unfamiliar number.   I thought “It must be a solicitor; they would have to call me just now!”  I didn’t answer, and the caller left a message.  Shortly thereafter, my expected call came from the familiar number.  After the call, I checked the message and found that it had been my call, just from an unexpected number.  By not answering when I could have easily done so and ended the call quickly had my assumption been correct, I had both delayed the expected call and caused the caller to revert to the previous, less convenient number.

2.  I needed a travel immunization and obtained a quote from a local private clinic.  The quoted cost struck me as very high, on top of which the clinic charged a “consultation fee” that, since I knew what I wanted, I didn’t feel I needed!  I thought, “What a rip-off!”  Then I called the county public health clinic and learned that there was a shortage of what I wanted, and that if I waited two months for the first available appointment, I could get the shot – at just 20% less than the private clinic’s quote.  I realized that the “rip-off” quote probably reflected the clinic’s acquisition cost, plus an appropriate “consultation” fee for overhead, a modest profit, and to ensure that administering the immunization was medically appropriate. 

3.  Looking for a parking spot on the street, I noticed a vehicle parked half-a-car’s length from a red curb.  My first thought was “If only that driver had pulled up to the red curb, someone else –- possibly me – could have parked behind him!”  When I parked further away and walked back past the spot, I realized that a motorcycle might have been previously parked next to the red curb, thus preventing the car from pulling up.

In each instance, my first reaction had been annoyance/irritation, a minor sense of “victimhood,” and attribution of “bad” behavior to others.   

I had violated Jewish law in all three instances.  I had also caused myself needless aggravation.  In fact, it made no difference whether I had been factually right or wrong.  Since I lacked compelling information to support my negative attributions, I had been wrong to make them.    

In this week’s Torah portion, Shalach-Lecha, the majority of spies sent to Canaan returned with bad reports.  They were severely punished by G-d and not allowed to re-enter the land.  Why did G-d react so harshly? 

Perhaps it was more than the bare fact of their bad reports about the Promised Land.  Just before leaving on their spy mission, G-d had severely punished Miriam for slandering Moses.  Despite witnessing this, they had failed to learn the important lesson that G-d expects us to notice and emphasize virtues, not faults.  

Similarly, one who does not “give the benefit of the doubt” to others does not deserve blessings and new opportunities.  Nor does he or she deserve the benefit of the doubt from others, or from G-d!  For several discussions of a Talmud section that discusses this subject, simply search “Shabbat 127b" in your internet browser.

For our own sake, and certainly for the sake of others, we should constantly practice “making excuses” for others unless the “negative” evidence against them is indisputable, or they have consistently engaged in bad behavior.  In the vast majority of cases, we simply don’t have an adequate basis to judge people negatively, and therefore must not do so. 

To put it another way, if we’re not sure about negative causes, we must be “positive!”

Shabbat shalom!  

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He who guards his mouth preserves his life
Proverbs 13:3