There is a special mitzvah in the Torah called "Judging others favorably." This means if I see someone causing me an affront, I have an obligation first to stop, think, and consider if perhaps I am missing one crucial factor.
It's like the woman who was upset at not being invited to her friend's wedding, and held a grudge for 20 years... until the invitation finally arrived in the mail accompanied by an apology from the Post Office.
Sometimes we feel we lack either the tools or patience to judge others favorably. As a matter of fact, more often than not we feel there could not possibly be any excuse or justification for certain behavior.
We can challenge these thoughts and prove how talented and ingenious we can be in inventing excuses for others - by seeing how well we do it for ourselves... as the following story portrays:
* * *
I am, in my own humble estimation, a reasonably considerate, courteous and judicious driver. I obey signs and traffic signals. I have never willfully cut another driver off, signaled right when I meant to turn left, or honked my horn in an officially designated quiet zone. Yes, I believe I can say without fear of reproof that I am a paragon of virtue and rectitude when I drive a car.
It's when I park a car that I exhibit signs of, well, not thoughtlessness so much as chronic unawareness. Allow me to explain.
You know how sometimes you're desperately searching for a space in a busy shopping area and you note, with no small degree of annoyance, that someone ruined a perfectly good spot by parking smack in the center of a space that would otherwise easily have accommodated two cars? Well, that was probably me.
And you know how sometimes (usually when you're in a real hurry) you want to pull into (or out of) your driveway but you can't because someone left either the front or back end of their car jutting way into the driveway entrance?
Believe me, I have never been proud of these, shall we say, unfortunate tendencies. (Vividly, I recall returning to my car one afternoon, surprised to find a rather nasty note taped to my back window, Much as I'd have liked to, I really couldn't disagree with anything in the note, unless maybe it was the spelling of the word "malicious.") On the other hand, I can't really say I was terribly troubled by them. My attitude, it now shames me to admit, hovered somewhere between "I probably should try to be more careful" and "what's the big deal, really?"
* * *
But that was before my miraculous and total rehabilitation. But I'll get to that in a moment; first, one final bit of information.
Since a recent change in my husband's work location necessitated his driving in to the office each day, he and I decided to purchase a small second car for my personal use. Because the driveway we share with our neighbor, Mr. S., is not large enough to accommodate this vehicle, I generally park it in the street in front of our house.
Hence, a typical scenario: I park the car at the end of the day, blocking a good part of the entrance to the driveway. My husband, who always comes home later than I, barely manages to squeeze his car in.
"It took me ten minutes to pull into the driveway," he informs me. "There's no way Mr. S. is going to get his van in. You 'd better re-park the car." Out I go, feeling - dare I admit it? - mildly put out. Okay, maybe there isn't a lot of room, but surely with a little bit of effort...
* * *
Now to the episode that I fervently believe has cured me forever.
I'd gotten off to a later start than usual that morning. Despite my frantic efforts to get everyone ready for school on time, my sons missed the bus.
"Great, just great," I fumed as I hustled the boys into the car. I had an extremely busy morning ahead of me and then an important early afternoon appointment. Driving the kids to school would take twenty minutes I could ill afford to spare. To top it off, I noticed the needle on the gas gauge was hovering close to empty. Oh well, there was enough gas to get me to school and back - I'd fill up later on the way to my appointment.
Twenty minutes later I was back, smoothly pulling the car up in front of the house as I usually do, leaving the car partially blocking the driveway. I gave the situation some quick consideration - my husband had taken public transportation to a meeting with a client that day and Mr. S. never got home until late in the evening - and then put the matter out of my mind.
The morning flew by. Before I knew it, it was time to leave for my appointment. In fact, if I stopped to fill the gas tank as I'd planned, I'd definitely be late. I'd just have to take my husband's car.
Really racing the clock now, I ran to the driveway, yanked the car door open, jumped in and started backing out. I'd only gone a couple of feet before I hit the brake. What was that I saw in my rear-view mirror?
Was that the back end of a car blocking my driveway?
Had someone actually had the chutzpah, the unmitigated gall, to block my driveway?
How could anyone do such a thing? How could they not stop to think that someone might be in a big hurry to get out?
Forcing myself to keep calm, I tried to determine whether there was any way at all I could maneuver past the vehicle. If I turned the wheel just a couple of degrees to the right and then carefully... no, forget it... there was absolutely no way out.
Now I was really angry. Would I give this person a piece of my mind when he showed up! Where was he anyway? Tentatively, I hit the horn, a few short beeps. Then a few not-so-short ones. Finally, I leaned on the horn, filling the air with one long, ear-piercing blast. Still no sign of the guy. I realized I had no choice but to start ringing doorbells. Fighting back tears of frustration, I slid out of the car and turned towards the street. One step, two... and the awful truth dawned on me at last.
If I'd had the time, I might have written myself a note and taped it to the car window. And believe me, I would have been careful to spell every word right.
Excerpted from the book, "THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STORY," stories and strategies for giving others the benefit of the doubt. By Yehudis Samet of Jerusalem.