Yehudah ben Tabay omer…uch’sheyiyu ba'alei dinin omdim l’fanecha yiyu b'einecha k’rsha'im. And when there are litigants standing before you see them as wicked. (Avos 1:8)
Rav Baruch HaLevi Epstein Z”L, author of the Torah Temimah, wondered why you would think of two people who came to a Bais Din to adjudicate their dispute as rishayim.
It is very difficult to call people who come to trial wicked; what wickedness have they done? On the contrary, they came to receive judgment according to the law of the Torah, that is why they came to the din Torah.. [At worst,] we might consider them deceivers since one of them may be deliberately trying to trick us. But to use the term rishayim, evildoers, is very cruel and very foreign to innocent people who came for a judgment based on Torah law.
Even more so we must explain the language of the Torah itself in this matter in Parshas Tzai'tzai (Devarim 25:1), when there will be a quarrel between people and they approach the judges who will judge them, justify the righteous and condemn the wicked. [The Torah is telling us that] one of the litigants was awarded the judgment and the other lost out. How can it be that the one who lost out is called a rasha? He did not do anything evil. He simply had a dispute with someone, nothing more. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to say that one of the litigants was found to be correct and the other mistaken?
The explanation is that although we commonly use the term rasha to denote a sinner, a criminal, a traitor, or one who misuses the laws of Torah and life, also included in this term is one who has on occasion done something inappropriate. Even someone who did not violate a Torah principle or mitzvah, rather, just did something unfair and did not do it habitually is sometimes called a rasha.
The term rasha is also applied to someone who has lapsed in one of his middos, even briefly. For example, the gemara tells us that anyone who prays behind the synagogue is called a rasha…even though this person is a Yisrael kosher other than in this behavior.
Another gemara teaches that anyone who expresses anger is termed a rasha, based on Tehilim 10:4. (Nedarim 22b with the Ran) Here we see that just because someone became angry he is called a rasha even though the middah of anger is natural for every person, even the greatest of the great. (Baruch SheAmar on Avos 1:8, pages 35-36)
Rav Epstein Z”L makes a strong case for describing someone based on a temporary behavior. The descriptions change with the behaviors. It is what you did, not who you are. Yet the siddur seems to see it differently.
V’takeim es devarecha ki tzadik Ata. (Nehemiah 9:8) You [Hashem] kept your word because You are a tzadik. Hashem is a Tzadik? Is that the extent of our understanding of Hashem?
The Yesod Malchus Siddur translates ki tzadik Ata as sheharei bi’middas hatzedek Ata noheig, You kaviyachol conduct yourself with the middah of Tzedek. We see various middos when Hashem interacts with us. We refer to Hashem by the names of those middos because we cannot describe Hashem’s essence. (See Metzudas David and Malbim on Nehemiah 9:33) Hashem is the perfect synthesis of all middos none of which defines Hashem.
We, too, are not limited to being a rasha or a tzadik. We sometimes act as one and and sometimes as the other and neither one defines us. Acting with avarice does not mean we are stingy. We act calmly sometimes and agitated at other times. We do not thereby become a calm person or an agitated person.
When a parent tells a child she is smart or creative it becomes a failure when she does something that is not smart or creative. Parents sometimes say that isn’t who you are. What does a child think about not being who they are? How can that be reassuring to a child?
When a child frequently says smart statements and produces creative projects she does not become anything other than who she always is. Herself. And herself includes creativity, intelligence, and whatever you want to call statements and projects that do not display intelligence and creativity. She is all of the above.
What does all of the above include and how did we discover that we have all of these middos within us?
Vayizter Hashem Elokim min ha'adamah kol chayas hasadeh…v’yavei el ha'adam liros mah yikra lo v’khol asher yikra lo ha'adam nefesh chayah hu shemo. And Hashem formed from the earth all the beasts of the field…and brought them to Adam to see what he would call him and whatever Adam called him, the beasts of the field, was his name. (Braishis 2:19)
The Alshich HaKodesh has a fascinating analysis of the expression asher yikra lo ha'adam nefesh chayah which is beyond the scope of this article. Instead, let us turn to the Netziv to examine several questions:
Why did Hashem at this time form from the earth all the beasts?
What did Hashem want Adam to learn from naming the animals?
What are we to learn from Hashem’s asking Adam to name the animals?
The Netziv explains that each animal was formed from a particular earth. This resulted in each animal having a different middah. Adam was able to discern each animal’s middah and named it accordingly. Adam had never experienced any of these middos. Hashem wanted Adam to learn of these middos by discovering them in the various animals.
We are to learn from this that we are Adam-like, created from earth taken from every place on the planet, thus we have within us every middah. (Based on Haamek Davar, Braishis 2:19-20)
Our role as parents, spouses, and friends is not to tell anyone who they are. Our role in their lives, and in our own, is to develop all of our middos and know when and in what measure to apply them.
Rabbi Yitzchak Shmuel Ackerman is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor with specialties in marriage, dating, and parenting.
He is the author of Confident Parents, Competent Children, in Four Seconds at a Time Available at bookstores and on Amazon.
He can be reached at 718-344-6575.