Judging People Superficially

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

In today's society, an extremely large amount of value and concern is placed on how one looks and dresses. Jews sinfully categorize their own brothers and sisters into superficial categories; "Does he wear a black jacket or hat?" "What type of yarmulke does he wear?" "Does she wear jeans skirts?" With anguish, I have heard that this nonsense has spread from personal characteristics, to amenities of the home, such as table coverings. Do people really believe that G-d felt that garments, or anything other than the person's values and midos should carry any weight? Further, one violates a halacha d'oraisa (positive command) of "Viahavta l'ra-acha comocha" ("thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself") when one passes judgment or prevents a shidduch if one is a convert, divorced, not Sephardic or Ashkenaz, and the like. This is clearly a despicable trait, one which must immediately be removed from one's value system, regardless of others who may disagree.

As always, when one desires to follow what is in accord with the Torah, one must look into the sources, not to what people say, or what is popularly believed or performed.

Who did King David, and King Solomon descend from? Ruth the Moabite.
Who did Joshua marry? Rachav the harlot. Who did Moshe Rabbeinu marry? Zippora - a woman whose father practiced every form of idolatry.
Ruth partook of greatness, as she exemplified modesty to such a high degree. G-d therefore selected her to be the mother of our greatest kings. Did G-d rebuke Moshe or Joshua for marrying people with such backgrounds? At the time of marriage, these individuals were living the correct philosophy. That is all G-d is concerned with. In Genesis 21:17, Rashi states this point clearly: "The angels approached G-d and said, this person's (Ishmael) seed is destined to kill your children through thirst, and you are creating a well for him? G-d responded, What is his level now, righteous or evil? They (the angels) responded, he is righteous. G-d then said, then this is how he will be judged - as righteous".

From whom should we learn our ideas? From the foolish people of today, who, if Ruth were alive, they would not accept because she is a convert? Or, perhaps, we should follow what G-d values?

King Solomon in Proverbs constantly describes peoples' psychological and philosophical mistakes, but then offers insight into resolving the problem. It is important not only to define a problem, but to offer insight into it's roots, so as to eradicate it. The concern here is to awaken people to their blindly accepted views which should be cast aside quickly, as they only serve to create discord, and not peace. Categorization of people by dress or other superficial means is nothing more than another permutation of the "private club" emotion - a view which a rational, G-d fearing Jew should not ascribe to. Casting another human being aside saying "he's not good enough for me, my son my daughter,...", merely based on dress or history alone, ignoring their values, is in reality a way for one to tell himself that he is better than this person. Degrading another is only done to elevate oneself. A philosophically corrupt activity, and clearly against halacha. A person's own insecurity with his views breeds this. One who is secure need not care about how others view him. The righteous person's intent is to please G-d, no one else. Self aggrandizement is not the goal of the Torah. Kindness is. Righteousness is. "Havei dan es kol adam l'caf z'chus". "Judge everyone favorably".

If we look further into the Torah itself, we do not see where G-d or the forefathers ever placed value on dress.

We see that one of the most perfected people ever to live, Jacob, gave a gift of a coat of striped colors (Radak, Gen. 37:3) to his son Joseph. Joseph as well didn't abstain from wearing that garment. Both Jacob and Joseph realized that there is nothing harmful in anyway about wearing a colored garment. Had Jacob known the outcome of demonstrating his favoritism towards Joseph in this manner, perhaps he would not have expressed it. But this does not mean that Jacob felt that the garment per se was a problem - the reaction of the brothers was the unforeseen problem. The priests as well are even commanded to wear colored garments.

We find in Exodus 12:35, upon the exodus from Egypt, the Jews asked the Egyptian's for their garments, and we do not see any criticism for this. Rashi even points out that the clothing was valued to the Jews more than the gold and silver vessels. If specific clothing must be worn according to the Torah, how could the Jews collect the clothing of their oppressors without critique? It would seem that there is no inherent problem in wearing other types of garments, even those of other nations (as long as the garments are not of religious practice).

How then do we understand the statement of the Rabbis that the Jews didn't change their language, their names or their clothing while in Egypt? This seems to oppose what we have just posited.

We may answer the following: Identification as a people is a good, as it shields against assimilation. The Jews in Egypt had no means of identification other than through language, clothing and names. The wearing of Egyptian clothing would have represented a loosening of their identity. Upon their exit however, the wearing of Egyptian clothing no longer posed a threat of assimilation, as the Egyptians were defeated, the Jews did not desire to identify with them.

In Samuel I, 1:16, G-d tells Samuel to go to Jesse, for "He (G-d) has seen a king for Himself among his sons". Interestingly, G-d does not tell Samuel which son. Why? G-d desired that Samuel also learn a lesson simultaneously with G-d's selection of the new king. Upon Samuel's arrival at the house of Jesse, Samuel sees Eliav. G-d tells Samuel "do not look at his appearance or his height, for he is despised, for it is not as man sees. Mans sees with his eyes, but G-d sees what's in the heart." Again, G-d is teaching us not to pay attention to the superficial information quickly assumed with the eyes. This is not the real person. The person, as G-d says, is what is in the heart.

In Zephania, 1:8, certain Jews were punished by G-d due to their wearing of "malbish nachri" (foreign or strange garments). The Radak offers, in his final interpretation, that the sin of those Jews was that "these men made themselves to look separate and righteous, and they wore strange garments, unlike the rest of their brethren, so that they should be recognized through their clothing as distinct individuals, but their ways are evil". The Radak clearly states that one is doing evil when he tries to externalize his righteousness. One's religious relationship is with G-d. This is the only Being to impress. If however, one feels that he must impress people, and do an act of wearing a garment to demonstrate his level, this is evil and evidently punishable.

G-d knows what is the perfect system for man, and included in the Torah only those commands which - if followed exactly - will yield the only perfect life. Any addition or subtraction is a defect in the system. Did the Creator of the heavens and Earth, Who designed every aspect of the human personality, miss a point? Did He forget to include something in the Torah? Of course this is absurd. So it stands to reason that if there is no mention of commands to wear specific garments, it is not necessary, and even destructive. If G-d didn't include it in His Torah, who are we, to quote King Solomon, who "come after the King", to say that something new is important, when G-d Himself didn't say so? This is arrogance at it's extreme.

Hashem said not to add onto the Torah or detract from it. G-d understands the religious emotion very well. He therefore bade us not to add to the Torah. G-d knew that man operates with emotions, and will project his own feelings, and try to be over-religious. However, one cannot lead a more religious life than the life which the Creator outlined for us.

We should follow the saying, "Maaseh Avos, siman l'banim", "acts of the forefathers are signs for the children". Let us follow Moshe Rabbeinu, Joshua, Jacob, and G-d, and ignore surface information. We should look only at the person's values, not at one's physical appearance. Are they G-d fearing, performers of charity and justice? Torah followers? It is these criteria alone that we should form decisions, if we must form a decision. Let us not act foolishly and condemn another human being, a fellow Jew, when he is not opposing G-d. We would not enjoy persecution based that which is immaterial. We should then be this sensitive to our fellow Jew, "thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself". Let us follow the example which G-d set with Ruth, as He judged her for her level of righteousness.

Imagine how much more peace there would be if we studied the Torah and kept to the teachings without distortion or projection, instead of operating out of false, destructive notions. We would have more ahava (love) towards one another. Remember why G-d destroyed Noah's generation, and sustained the generation of the dispersion. As Rashi stated, "great is love, and hated is argument". We must stop fabricating false categories about our own brothers and sisters. It has gone on too long. Instead of looking for reasons to degrade a Jew, look for reasons to love someone and appreciate their real worth.

A person is what's inside - not what's outside.

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