Passing Judgment “In the Distance”
Yael Eckstein | December 9, 2020
But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him. — Genesis 37:18
Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Vayeshev, which means “and he lived,” from Genesis 37:1—40:23.
I once heard a story about a battleship at sea. The ship had come under severe weather, and the captain got a report that there was light up ahead. “Is it steady or moving?” the captain called out. The lookout replied, “Steady, captain.” This meant that the ship was on a collision course.
The captain sent out a message to the vessel up ahead warning, “We are on a collision course; advise you change course 20 degrees.” But the reply that came back said, “Advisable for you to change course 20 degrees.” The captain was furious and retorted, “I’m a battleship! You change course 20 degrees.” The reply flashed back, “I’m a lighthouse.”
This story is funny, but I love how it illustrates how harmful it can be when we misjudge others, failing to understand who they really are. When we are quick to judge, we can needlessly hurt others, including ourselves.
In this week’s reading, Joseph’s brothers had severely misjudged him. They heard him talk about his dreams, which implied that he would rule over the family, and then they saw him bring a bad report about them back to their father. They concluded that Joseph was a bad seed and that it was their duty to get rid of him.
The Bible tells us, “they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.” The problem was that the bothers saw Joseph from a “distance” — they didn’t really know him or understand who he really was. They passed judgment on Joseph from a distance, “before he reached them,” before getting close enough to truly know him.
All too often, we also make the mistake of passing judgment on people when we don’t really know them. This can lead to ruined relationships, passed up friendships, and deeply hurt feelings.
In reality, there is so much more to every person then what we can possibly know. How could we ever pass judgment? Instead of being judgmental, we need to give others the benefit of the doubt. Instead of passing judgment from a distance, let’s come close to others with kindness, understanding, compassion, and love.
In all of your interactions today, choose love over judgement, giving everyone the benefit of the doubt and the benefit of your kindness.