In Lesson I:136 of Likutey Moharan, Rebbe Nachman teaches us the following:
“This is the meaning of what our judges said: “Judge every person favorably.”
When one is confronted with opposition, one must search to find some good point in the other person to explain why that person is opposing him, in order to judge him favorably. This is because opposition is inevitably in one of two ways.
Either because the other person is greater than one is, and is thus opposing one because one has not reached his level, in which case one should strive to reach his level so that both will be equal and there will be no more opposition.
And sometimes the opposite is the case, when one is greater than the other person, and the opposition is because the other person is jealous of one for not having reached one’s level.
In this case, one must judge the other favorably, by virtue of which one elevates the other the side of merit, and they are then both in the same place, at the same level, and then there will surely be no opposition…..
…And by virtue of elevating the other to the scale of merit, the other may rescind, thus eliminating the opposition, or he may have a downfall, for by elevating him to the scale of merit, you may be ‘heaping coals on his head’ (Proverbs 25:22).
Thus, ‘Judge every person favorably – JUDGE, for this is literally an aspect of judging, since before anyone can rise to a higher level, he is judged.
Therefore, by your judging him to the scale of merit and thereby elevating him to a higher level, he is being judged, and however the judgment goes, so shall it be.
Around four years’ ago, I had the privilege of travelling to Uman for the first time with Rav Ofer Erez.
I had no idea who he was before that trip, just he was going at the ‘right’ time for me, so when I saw his trip advertised, I joined his group.
Man, Rav Ofer blew me away.
It was at a time when I was deep, deep in all my pondering about the Erev Rav in our midst, and whether they could actually make teshuva. So, towards the end of that trip I got my courage up to go and ask Rav Ofer this question.
He explained to me that there were two types of Erev Rav, and one type could make full teshuva, and one couldn’t.
Over the next couple of years, that idea bounced around a lot in my head, until I finally found a shiur by Rav Berland that was the missing part of the equation. That shiur helped me to realize that what we’re really dealing with here are Erev Rav traits that need to be rectified, and that nearly all of us have these traits, as opposed to discrete Erev Rav people.
I wrote the whole ‘Unlocking the Secret of the Erev Rav’ book last year to explain all the insights I’d got about Erev Rav traits vs Erev Rav people, and how Rebbe Nachman and Uman fits into that picture.
Because make no mistake, Rabbenu’s main spiritual mission in the world is to continue the work begun by Moshe Rabbenu, and to finally birur (clarify) and rectify these ‘Erev Rav’ soul sparks that came into the world as a result of Adam HaRishon’s sin of separating from his wife for 130 years, and fathering shedim, or demons.
(This is talked about at length in the Zohar, and explained in plain English terms in Unlocking the Secret of the Erev Rav. It’s also part of the reason why Likutey Moharan is referred to as the ‘book of the wicked’, but that’s a post for another time.)
Once all those sparks have been clarified and elevated, the geula can happen.
So now, how do the ‘two types’ of Erev Rav mentioned by Rav Ofer fit into the idea that we’re really dealing with Erev Rav traits, and not Erev Rav people? That’s where lesson I:136 of Likutey Moharan comes in.
Rabbenu is telling us, all those psychos and nut-jobs who are out there, don’t think that you are better than they are.
Understand that if you’d been raised in the sort of homes they come from, or faced the sort of super-traumatic, personality-disorder-causing circumstances they have, you’d be even more of a crazy person than they are.
When we can see that people are angry / selfish / egotistical / bossy / cold / uncaring / jealous / vengeful / hate-filled etc etc, if we understand that they most probably got that way because they faced a lot of neglect, terror, or emotional / physical abuse in childhood, that then makes it much easier to judge them favorably, and to tip them into the scale of merit.
‘Hey, bud, the reason you’re acting like a narcissist is because your childhood sucked and you never heard a kind word said to you in your life!’
Spiritually speaking, Rabbenu tells us that as soon as we understand that it’s their reaction to traumatic circumstances that has made all these crazy, ‘Erev Rav’ type people act like psychos, that’s the essence of judging that person favorably.
Crucially, as soon as we do that, we’re also opening a path for them to understand, on the spiritual level, that just as they were broken, they can be fixed, they can change, and they can come back to Hashem.
When I tell you, dear reader, about all my panic attacks, crack ups, despair fits etc etc – and then also tell you how doing hitbodedut for an hour a day changed me fundamentally, and how going to Uman changed me fundamentally, and how doing pidyons with Rav Berland are working to change things fundamentally – that’s shining a light on the derech, or pathway, that got me out of craziness and led me to a much saner, nicer place.
Just as it worked for me, it can work for you, too.
So here’s where the two types of ‘Erev Rav’ come in: until it’s established that a person with pronounced Erev Rav tendencies (i.e. most of us today….) can change, that person is in complete despair and denial about their problems and issues.
‘What, you think I can stop getting angry?!?!? Impossible! You think I can stop being so tight-fisted and anxious about spending money?!?!? Impossible! You think I can actually overcome my own overwhelming urge for self-preservation to put the needs of other first?!?!? Impossible!’
But, when we judge that person favorably, and at least on the spiritual level we tell them:
‘Hey, bud! That’s not the real you! That’s just a yetzer, a klipa, that grew up around you because you had a messed-up childhood!’ – then, we shine a light on the path out of the madness.
As this stage, Rabbenu tells us, the person can go one of two ways: Either, they’ll now WANT to change, even though it’s very hard and difficult, and they’ll stop being an awkward difficult person (this is the ‘rescind’ mentioned above.)
OR, they won’t – but then they’re going to have a downfall and get out of your face that way, instead.
To put this in different words, judging others favorably in this way effectively restores their free choice to change and improve. The people with Erev Rav tendencies who can make teshuva will, as soon as they know it’s possible, but the people with Erev Rav tendencies who can’t (or to be precise DON’T WANT TO) make teshuva will dig their heels in even more stubbornly, stay willfully stuck in their evil behavior – and God Himself will take them out.
‘However the judgment goes, so shall it be.’
Awesome, isn’t it?
And the way this clarification is achieved is by judging others favorably, i.e. finding a reason why they act the way they act, and understanding that if you had their upbringing (and you hadn’t yet started doing an hour a day of hitbodedut and going to Uman…) you would also be a lunatic.
TO SUM THIS STUFF UP:
Rectifiying the world, especially the sparks of the Erev Rav souls most of us possess in this generation, depends on:
- Us having the humility to know that we are no better than other people.
- Us judging other people favorably, and understanding why they act the way they do.
(That’s all the ‘trauma’ stuff I write a lot about…)
Once we do that, the person we ‘judge’ in this way effectively gets their free will restored to make teshuva and change, or to dig their heels in and get taken out of the picture by God.
Either way, they get ‘clarified’, and we get geula.
The last thing to say is that the only real difference between Erev Rav who can make teshuva and Erev Rav who can’t is the WILL TO CHANGE. When people enjoy being evil, they don’t want to change. When they are evil despite themselves, they DO want to change, but don’t know how to do it.
Anyone who WANTS to improve, and who WANTS to do things differently just has Erev Rav traits to work on, and is NOT an unfixable Erev Rav.
So take heart! Most people will make it through this birur process.
But only once they (and we….) know and acknowledge that the main reason they’re acting like a psycho is because of childhood trauma.