יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בֶּן פְּרַחְיָה וְנִתַּאי הָאַרְבֵּלִי קִבְּלוּ מֵהֶם. יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בֶּן פְּרַחְיָה אוֹמֵר, עֲשֵׂה לְךָ רַב, וּקְנֵה לְךָ חָבֵר, וֶהֱוֵי דָן אֶת כָּל הָאָדָם לְכַף זְכוּת
Joshua ben Perahiah and Nittai the Arbelite received [the oral tradition] from them. Joshua ben Perahiah used to say: appoint for thyself a teacher and acquire for thyself a companion and judge all men with the scale weighted in his favor.
Starting with the last one “judge”: You will say, nicely said, but there are always people you can be sure that they are bad. After all, should you give a serial killer the benefit of the doubt? Yet even with these people, I do wonder how they became this way, what happened in their lives that they act the way they act, think the way they think.
But it’s particularly about actions of people you don’t know if it’s well-intentioned or not. In such situations, you must give them the benefit of the doubt, and assume they meant well. Even when it comes to following certain rules to comply with, you give them the benefit of the doubt. For instance, I lost my key for times, was sure I had left it on my desk, where it was no longer at the end of the day. I reviewed several people who might have taken it…and so basically, I should have given everyone the benefit of the doubt. Fortunately, I eventually got my key back…weeks later, it was suddenly in my pocket. So, whoever had taken the key apparently repented later.
However, if you look at yourself, you shouldn’t give yourself the benefit of the doubt. You must follow the 7 Noahide Laws and details as best you can. Then it is good to be strict, strict with yourself.
You can hardly say I took the boss’ pen today because mine didn’t work. I know that’s not allowed, tomorrow I won’t do it again. You can hardly give yourself the benefit of the doubt in such a situation. Whereas in the case of my key, maybe someone needed it who no longer had a key themselves until they got a new one from the boss, who knows.
It is good to have a regular compagnion to learn with. You know each other, trust each other. That will make you more openly dare to name and discuss your doubts or issues. Rashi suggests that this Misnah means that one should acquire books ~ they are the best companions and are essential for acquiring Torah knowledge. My books are my best buddies, so I completely agree with these words of Rashi.
We had already discussed the importance of having one’s own Rabbi in Pirkei Avot 1:4 – Walk in the Dust.
Every person needs a Rabbi, a mentor who provides guidance, because without one, a person is adrift. This is what I sometimes see in people who do not have their own Rabbi. Then they run with direction A for a while, a while later with direction B, and again a while later with direction C only to end up with A again. At all directions they ask the same questions, get different answers and their soul remains restless in the storm of too much information.
Choose a Rabbi that suits you. Be willing to submit to his direction. Read your books and discuss the questions you come across. What you learn, apply that in your own life and be critical of yourself. But not on your neighbor, who is walking his own learning path.
By Angelique Sijbolts
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