Judgment is a heavy responsibility. Being judgmental of one’s spouse is pure idiocy. We will learn together that the awesome responsibility of judgment should be exercised by very few, and on rare occasions. If exercised at all, it needs to be weighed with great seriousness.

In Torah there are various aspects of judgment which are markedly different to the level of acceptance of the term in secular society.

One of the fascinating differences lies in the pronouncement of the death penalty. There are certain crimes which in Jewish law are punishable by death. There are various forms of death penalty, and various offences which, if committed after proper warning and in front of witnesses, result in one or other form of capital punishment.

The death penalty can only be pronounced by a Sanhedrin (Court) of seventy-one judges. There is a fascinating rule in relation to the verdict of death.1 Judgment goes according to the majority. If, therefore, a majority of the judges find that the accused is guilty, he will be pronounced guilty and penalized by death. If, however, the Court is unanimous in its verdict that the man is guilty, he is set free! This extraordinary apparent paradox in fact shows fathomless depth of wisdom. What we are being taught by this law is that every man, no matter how good and no matter how bad, is going to have mixed into his spiritual psyche some good and some evil.

There2 is no such thing as a Jew who is entirely evil. This flows from the fact that a Jew has a neshama (soul) which is part of G‑d above. It therefore cannot be that a Jew has no positive quality whatsoever. If a bench of seventy-one cannot find anything whatsoever in that person to redeem him sufficiently that at least one of their number has some doubt as to his culpability, then there is an assumption that the Court has not done its work properly and the accused should therefore be freed.

Another aspect of judgment which is fascinating and different to secular law is that of the mumkin (expert). In secular society, a professional person who advises to another’s disadvantage, can be sued and stripped by clever lawyers with instant savagery. In Jewish law the situation is different. A person who is not an expert in the field whose advice turns out to be wrong, is liable to his last cent. An expert, however, whose advice turned out to be negative, is free of responsibility. This is also a very deep lesson in Torah. A Jew is being reminded here that with the best will in the world only G‑d controls the outcome and we cannot think for Him. The best that man can do is to work with what is available to him and to make plans which he believes are being made with wisdom. The outcome of those plans, however, are not his domain; they are the domain of G‑d. If an expert gives his advice and the outcome is negative, Jewish Law recognizes that ultimately the responsibility for the outcome is that of the Almighty. As we learn, the outcome is really for the good.

It therefore behooves a person to consider carefully the responsibility that he has in judgment. Before forming a judgment one has to be mindful of whether or not one is taking into consideration the other person’s good qualities and in any event freeing that person from the responsibility of the outcome of his sincerely intended actions for the good. These responsibilities are so heavy that it is simply better to avoid exercising them wherever possible. In no relationship is this truer than between husband and wife. Before making a negative judgment about one’s spouse, one has to be very careful that one has considered all the positives of that person and since those positives are part of one’s own very soul, they should be cherished. Furthermore, if the outcome of an action by one’s spouse is negative, so long as the best was intended, for what more can one ask?

There is an even deeper level to the question of judgmental behavior. Every Jewish neshama (soul) comes down into a guf (body) in order to make a dwelling place for G‑d in the lowest possible world, namely this physical world. A Jew does this by learning Torah and doing mitzvos. In so doing he elevates the environment and his own animal soul. The methodology of this elevation is achieved by overcoming obstacles and challenges which are placed in the pathway of the soul in the body during the travels of its life. One of the deepest secrets of Torah is that each person gets exactly the environment, both physical and emotional, that he needs in order to fulfill these challenges and pass through the various tests. If, for example, a man needs to be tested with wealth, he will be rich; if with poverty, he will be poor. His strengths and weaknesses, his positives and negatives, will all be given to him in an exact, brilliantly mixed cocktail which best prepares him for his particular journey through life. Indeed, all the incidents that then happen to a person as he makes that journey, are also structured to be blended into that cocktail. Now, since nobody has the same mix of abilities and disadvantages, circumstances and happenings, as oneself, it is simply an impossibility for one to predict how another should or would act under a given set of circumstances. It is for this reason that we have the very deep injunction in Torah not to judge a person until having been in his position. Since it is almost impossible to be equipped in the same way as another, it is almost never correct to judge.

This powerful reality is explained by the Rebbe3 in relation to the account of Adam failing with the fruit of the Tree of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden.

The Talmud4 explains that Adam was created in the late morning erev Shabbos, on 1st Tishrei (the 1st day of the first Jewish calendar month). He was commanded to refrain from eating the fruit of the Tree of Good and Evil in the early afternoon. There are various descriptions of what that fruit was (it certainly was not an apple) including esrog (citron)and grapes. Since all Torah is true, we can assume that grapes were an ingredient of the prohibition. We know that since Adam was created erev Shabbos, he needed the grapes for Kiddush, and nightfall (at the time of 1st Tishrei) would have come in at around 6pm. The prohibition on Adam was therefore only a prohibition for some three hours.5 Now, Adam had just been created with Eve. He had access to the greatest secrets of creation being the only human being ever created directly by G‑d without the intermediary of parents. The Midrash says that he could see from one end of the world to the other, so great were his powers. At his disposal was the whole of Gan Eden, a revelation of G‑dliness in nature, something so spectacular that it boggles the imagination and indeed escapes it for most people. With all of this marvel at his disposal, we have to accept that Adam could not last three hours without eating the grapes that he was going to consume anyway for Kiddush when Shabbos began. With all the wonders, spiritual, emotional and physical at his disposal, he had to transgress the one negative mitzvah which he had been given and so destine humanity for inescapable mortality. With all available to him, he had to condemn mankind to have to work by the sweat of his brow, for woman to give birth in pain, before both being forced to die in each and every generation until the coming of Mashiach! The Rebbe explains in a beautiful sicha, that a critical profound lesson lies here: we cannot imagine another person’s yetzer hora (evil inclination). We cannot really judge because we have never been in that position. We look at Adam and all that was available to him and are mystified at the fact that he could transgress what appears to be so simple an injunction for such a short period of time. The secret to understanding this incredible mystery is to comprehend that we do not have the yetzer hora that Adam had. Without it, we simply cannot understand it. Without it, we simply cannot appreciate his problem; without it, we are bewildered and correctly so; without it, we simply cannot judge him.

If this is true for somebody unique and of the stature of Adam, created by the breath of G‑d’s mouth as it were, how much more so is this true of an ordinary person who is one’s husband or wife. How much more true is this of someone who has needs to be fulfilled, the level and intensity of which remain a mystery to the partner because in the partner they are not felt at the same concentration. Like criticism, judgment should be left wherever possible outside the home and outside the relationship and firmly in G‑d’s domain.