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Giving Others the Benefit of the Doubt

The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?” “No,” he said. — Numbers 22:30

The Torah portion for this week is Balak, after the king of the Moabites, from Numbers 22:2–25:9, and the Haftorah is from Micah 5:6–6:8.

Recently I came across a story that illustrated how we don’t always see the whole picture in life. In the story, a woman was distraught and insulted when she did not receive an invitation to a wedding from a person she considered a good friend. The friend was planning a glamorous wedding for her engaged daughter and even went as far as to discuss details of the wedding in front of the insulted woman.

The woman thought, “How insensitive, telling me all about the wedding and then refusing to invite me!” The woman held a grudge against that friend for 20 years. She stopped talking to her and passed by her in public without even a nod of her head. Then one day, a tattered, old-looking envelope arrived in the mail. It contained a wedding invitation. Along with the envelope was a letter of apology from the post office explaining how the invitation had been lost for 20 years.

In this week’s Torah portion, we read about the sorcerer Balaam, who was hired by the Moabite king, Balak, to curse the children of Israel. God didn’t approve of this plan, so as Balaam set out on his journey, God sent a sword-wielding angel to stand in his way. Balaam couldn’t see the angel, but the donkey on which he was riding could see the supernatural being. As a result, the donkey fled in fright. Still blinded to the truth, Balaam beat his donkey until it returned to the road, where it again perceived the frightening sight of the angel. The donkey bolted again, this time crushing Balaam’s foot. Again, Balaam beat the donkey. The donkey laid down in despair and was beaten once more.

Next, a miracle occurred and God opened the mouth of the donkey who asked Balaam what it had done to deserve such harsh treatment. Balaam replied that if only he had a sword then he would kill the donkey, too. The donkey replied, “Am I not your own donkey, which you have always ridden, to this day? Have I been in the habit of doing this to you?” Balaam replies “No.” Then God opened Balaam’s eyes and he understood.

The Jewish sages explain that this exchange is a great lesson for us on judging others favorably. The donkey was saying to Balaam: I have always been faithful and good to you – you should have judged me favorably and realized that there was something you couldn’t see. So, too, we must approach our friends and family with the same attitude. If they have always been good to us, we shouldn’t condemn them for one action that doesn’t make sense to us. We should give our friends and family the benefit of the doubt.

With prayers for shalom, peace,

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President

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