Give the Benefit of the Doubt

Yael Eckstein  |  June 24, 2021

Girl hurling herself on top of a donkey.

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

Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Balak, named after the king of the Moabites, from Numbers 22:2-25:9.

Recently, I came across a wonderful illustration of how we don’t always see the whole picture in life. In this story, a woman was distraught because she had not received an invitation to a glamorous wedding hosted by a person she thought was her good friend. To make matters worse, this “friend” even discussed details of the wedding right in front of her.

How insensitive, the woman thought, talking about the wedding and then refusing to invite me! The snubbed woman held a grudge against that friend for twenty years. She stopped calling her, talking to her, and snubbed her in public.

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 twenty years!

Give the Benefit of the Doubt

In this week’s Torah portion, we read about how the Moabite king, Balak, hired the sorcerer Balaam to curse the Israelites. Because God didn’t want this to happen, He sent a sword-wielding angel to block Balaam’s way. Balaam couldn’t see the angel, but his donkey could and fled in fright.

Balaam, blind to the frightening image, beat his donkey until it returned to the road. He continued to beat the poor animal every time it tried to escape from the angel of the Lord. Finally, as Balaam was beating the donkey once more, God opened the donkey’s mouth, and the donkey asked Balaam what it had done to deserve such harsh treatment.

The donkey pleaded with 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?” When Balaam replied “No,” God finally opened Balaam’s eyes and he understood his donkey’s behavior.

What a great lesson on judging others favorably. The donkey was essentially 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!

In the same way, we must learn to give others the benefit of the doubt. If they have always been good to you, don’t condemn them on account of one action that doesn’t make sense to you. There are things that we do not see, but that need not cloud our vision.

Your Turn:

This week, try extending the benefit of the doubt to someone whose actions have either disappointed or confused you. Remember, when we look for the good in each other, we will find it!