Matot-Massei: Blaming Others? Hold the Phone!

About a month ago, I posted a D'var Torah about our obligation to give people the “benefit of the doubt” and even to “make excuses” for them, unless their prior behavior demonstrated that doing so would clearly be unjustified.  Little did I know that I would soon have an opportunity to “practice what I preach.” 

I discovered that one of the pockets of my backpack was unzipped – and that my Iphone, which I had placed there, was gone! 

There were just two possibilities: 

1.  I had neglected to shut the zipper, and it had fallen out when I had slung the backpack off of or onto my shoulders.   

2.  While my backpack sat unattended under a chair in the corner of the vacant synagogue sanctuary for 20 minutes, someone had rifled through it and taken my phone.

I didn’t want to credit the second possibility.  Stealing in a synagogue sanctuary on Shabbat (in Jerusalem, no less!)?  But, I knew, such things do happen.  Moreover, I was skeptical of the first possibility.  Sure, I could have neglected to shut the zipper.  But even if I had left it open, the pocket opening was narrow and obstructed, making it difficult for bulky times to fall out.  My phone had a wide case with protruding belt clip, so it probably didn’t.  Even if it had, wouldn’t I have heard it clatter to the ground/floor!  

But one way or the other, I had been careless.  Either I had neglected to close the zipper, or I had unwisely left my backpack unattended with the expensive phone in it.  I was not going to compound my neglect by choosing the possibility that cast someone as a thief.  I decided that I would choose to believe that the phone had fallen out.

I spent most of the next day obtaining a replacement, restoring it from an old back-up, and arranging for my phone company to activate a new SIM-card with my old number.  Service was restored about 9:15 pm, and I went to bed.

Three hours later, the replacement phone rang!  The caller had found my phone and been trying all day to reach me at the number shown on a business card I had inserted into the phone case.  (Of course, I didn’t have the phone to answer it!)  He had found it in a park where, I remembered, I had stopped to rest. I realized that it had either fallen silently onto the grass, or that I had removed it from the pocket when retrieving my sunglasses and left it sitting on the rock where I had sat down!   I was very happy – and very lucky – to retrieve my phone, but also happy that I had decided not to attribute the loss to theft.   

In this week’s Torah portion, Matot-Massei, G-d commands that no one be convicted of murder on the testimony of a single witness.  (Numbers 35:30). When we judge others, we usually do so without any witness. We explain their behavior by exculpating our own, and/or by casting them (even if we don’t know “them”) in the worst light.   

Or, we choose to believe hearsay or other lashon hara (evil speech) of just one “witness,” perhaps our friend or acquaintance – or even base our condemnation upon something we read on social media.  We also often consider too few possible explanations (as I did by assuming that my phone had either fallen out of the pocket or been stolen – I didn’t consider that I might have removed it from the pocket and then unknowingly knocked it to the ground out of view -- or simply failed to pick it up).   

Blaming and/or attributing negative motivations to others absent compelling evidence is an ethical evil that we should make every effort to avoid.  We should usually choose an explanation that favors others, or simply concede that we don’t know what happened or why, without casting blame or criticism.

That my decision to blame myself for the loss of my phone turned out to be factually correct, was comforting in retrospect, but unimportant.  It might have been stolen, but since I didn’t have compelling evidence that it had been, I was not ethically entitled to cast dispersions on others by assuming such. 

More importantly, choosing to blame myself rather than others will – I hope – reinforce my efforts to think and act ethically toward others in the future and be very cautious before judging them.

Shabbat shalom from Jerusalem! 

P.S.  As a result of temporarily losing my phone, and of the difficulties I experienced in restoring it once returned, I have written a set of suggestions for all smartphone users.    



There are currently no comments, be the first to post one.

Comment Form

Only registered users may post comments.

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