Grades 3 through 5 played a game during my morning Dvar Torah based on the mitzvah in this week’s parshah to judge each person favorably, בצדק תשפט את עמיתך. I shared a scenario and prompted the children to דן לכף זכות, to figure out an ending that judged favorably. They came up with many creative answers.
According to Rashi, judging favorably is part of the mitzvah contained in Parshas Kedoshim, ואהבת לרעך כמוך, Love your neighbor as yourself.” One of Rabbi Akiva’s most famous sayings is that this posuk is “a fundamental principle of the Torah.”
Rav Yissocher Frand comments that Rabbi Akiva is the greatest role model for the mitzvah of Ahavas Yisroel. In these days of Sefirah, when we commemorate the deaths of 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students, we cannot imagine the devastation Rabbi Akiva must have felt. In normal circumstances, such a catastrophe would not only reflect negatively on a Rosh Yeshivah but would also result in depression and a broken heart.
Yet the Gemoro in Yevomos tells us that after this tragedy “the world was desolate, Rabbi Akiva went to the south of Eretz Yisroel and started over again!” We see the resilience of Rabbi Akiva. In his darkest moment, Rabbi Akiva would discover something positive to give him hope—and also the confidence to start over again.
Rabbi Akiva’s ability to find light in the darkness, and the positive in the worst scenario made him attuned to the mitzvah of loving others. Rabbi Akiva was able to see the worth in every human being and therefore love them for it. He was able to judge every person favorably because he trained himself always to look for the positive. This is the essence of fulfilling ואהבת לרעך כמוך.
The students in Grades 3 through 5 learned an important lesson this week by practicing דן לכף זכות through role playing. Try it yourself at your שבת table - see if your children can figure out … the rest of the story.
Rabbi Gidon Goldberg
Head of School