Giving The Benefit Of The Doubt

There is a story about some construction workers remodeling a building opposite a house of prostitution. They saw a well-known pastor go into the house of ill repute. One worker saw him and said, “Look at that hypocrite. Always preaching about sin and there he goes into that wicked place.”

An hour later, a rabbi was seen going into that place and the construction worker remarked, “Look at that hypocrite. He acts so holy and pure, but he goes into a place like that.”

Time passed, and they saw a Catholic Priest go into the house. The construction worker saw him and said, “Oh what a shame, one of the poor girls must have died.”

We are very good at interpreting events to suit our own attitudes and beliefs. When I read the Torah, it commands people to give one another the benefit of the doubt. It teaches clearly that a person who commits a grave sin can not be stoned unless there are at least two or three witnesses. The problem is, if we hear some horrible story about someone, we are very quick to believe it, even if there are no witnesses. What happened to giving someone the benefit of the doubt? The Torah won’t accept the account of one witness because the one witness might not have understood what was going on. It is also possible that if there is only one witness, anyone could be convicted by the word of someone with bad intentions. This happened often during the French Revolution and many innocents went to the guillotine. The same thing happened during the Spanish Inquisition, as well as the McCarthy Inquisitions during the 1950s. Many innocent people had their lives ruined or taken from them. The Torah Command was given to protect people from the prejudice and hatred of individuals.

As someone who has been in leadership for a long time, I can attest that if you are a leader, you are a target. People interpret every word or action you make in light of their own lives or their own agenda. I’ve had people think I meant them when talking about an issue and I had no idea that they were dealing with such issues. We’ve all had the experience of people interpreting our words or actions in a negative light. I have many friends who are Conservatives and many who are Liberal. When I read the political stuff they send me from the internet, I have to chuckle. The stuff I get from the Liberals makes the President seem like he is the Messiah. The stuff I get from the Conservatives make him out to be the incarnation of Satan himself.

I’m not so concerned about politics, but about how we treat one another. When we deal with people we like, they can do no wrong, and we have no problems overlooking even major short comings, because they are people we like or love. When we deal with people we don’t really care for, even minor problems become catastrophes in our eyes, because we don’t really like them and their problems give us the opportunity to put them down.

Yeshua spoke to this aspect of our lives when he taught, “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?” When we only give the benefit of the doubt to people who we like, we are doing no better than pagans and tax collectors. Yeshua was teaching that the intent of the Commandment was that we are to give all people the benefit of the doubt. If we hear a bad word about someone, we should not readily receive it. We should think well of people and consider a bad report to be untrue unless there are two or three witnesses. Demonizing others is not something God does, and not something God wants his people doing. God is not the accuser of the brethren. Jacob, the brother of Yeshua wrote, “Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.” – Jacob 4:11.

Giving the benefit of the doubt is a reflection of Godliness.


3 thoughts on “Giving The Benefit Of The Doubt

  1. One can only imagine what our world would look like if humanity took this idea to heart.

    As part of the younger generation I can tell you that we are much more interested in how people are treated vs subscribing to a politcal philosophy. I have little use for the political game and I find that any agreement with one political party or the other is purely coincidental. What I am trying to do is subscribe to and live by a HIGHER philosophy (Torah) than politics could ever offer. You’ve outlined a or possibly THE) key component.

  2. I love your post, Rabbi. I think if we were to fit the Messiah’s parable [the real Messiah, that is :)] into today’s language, “tax collectors” would be changed to “lawyers and politicians.” [I also chuckled at your use of “Jacob” instead of “James…” an interesting piece of history most don’t know] Post well done!

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