Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Benefit of the Doubt

Once there was an informer who was a thorn in the side of his community. One day, a peddler ran into him while bearing a load of eggs. The informer hinted that he expected free goods, but the seller made clear his demand for payment. Infuriated, the moser smashed all the eggs and left the seller covered in filth. The peddler went straight to the rav of the town, who sent his reluctant shamash to summon the moser to a din Torah. When the shamash arrived at the informer’s house, he was thrown out. The rav forced his shamash to return, this time with a threat that if he did not appear he would be excommunicated. The moser beat the poor shamash and threw him out.
On Shabbos, they called the moser to the Torah as usual, but when he approached the bimah the rav shouted, “Rasha! How dare you refuse to come to a din Torah?” The moser blanched and retreated, muttering threats. Several days later, the rav left to officiate at a bris in the next town with two students. On the road, the group noticed the moser following them on horseback. All the while, the rav was deep in thought. When the moser finally dismounted, the talmidim were baffled by his behavior.
In a choked and teary voice, he asked the rav, “Rebbi, may I thrash your talmidim?”
“Chalilah,” answered the rav.
“Can’t I at least give them a good slap in the face?” begged the moser.
“Don't touch them,” was the rav’s reply.
“Won’t you at least allow me to spit on them to teach them a lesson?” he pleaded.
“No,” the rav responded immediately.
The moser then broke down, “Rebbi, please forgive me for all the pain I caused you.”
“Pay for the eggs and appease the peddler and I will forgive you,” said the Rav.
The man acquiesced and turned back, and the group continued on their journey. One of the students asked the rav, “What happened here?”
The rav answered, “When I saw he intended us harm, I davened for help. Then I remembered an important principle: people reflect the feelings that we have toward them. Since I had hated his wickedness, he hated me in return. But when I started looking for his zechuyos, his attitude toward me changed. As he approached I thought, ‘Surely he absorbed evil from a bad environment and lacked for good examples. And perhaps he had really intended to pay for the eggs and was angry that the seller assumed he meant to take them by force. Maybe he was hurt because I summoned him like a criminal instead of setting a date as is proper? And he did not respond when I shamed him publicly; perhaps all his sins were forgiven!’ I am sure that on his end he also began to consider me in a better light. From moment to moment our hearts were drawn closer until he stood before me full of love in place of anger.”
The student asked, “If so, why did he wish to hurt the two of us?”
“Because you were thinking, ‘The wicked moser has come to kill our rav.’ He naturally felt the same hatred toward you. He really wanted to thrash you!”

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