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Even though I've been there

07/08/2021 10:10:51 AM


A few years ago, I remember reading an article about how the proverb “don’t judge others until you’ve walked in their shoes” doesn’t work as intended. The saying asserts that you shouldn’t be quick to judge others because you don’t understand the other person’s perspective as you haven’t had the same experiences as them. Instead, you should give them the benefit of the doubt. Only if you understood where they are coming from fully could you truly begin to judge the other for their actions. However, researchers discovered the opposite phenomenon. The more similar your experiences are to those of others, the more likely you tend to judge negatively the decisions they make. Thus, waiting until you’ve walked in other’s shoes might make you even more judgmental and less sympathetic. 

As we finish the Book of Numbers with the double portion of Mattot-Massei, we encounter the law dictating that the tribe of Levi is not to be allotted territory of their own in the Promised Land. Instead, they are gifted towns and fields to live in from the other tribes; land that can’t be used for farming. Under such a system, the Levites would be dependent on the tithes and contributions of the other Israelites for their sustenance. Harold Kushner argues that the reason for this dependence on others is so that the Levites will understand the perspective of the disenfranchised of society and thus they will be more inclined to deal more fairly with them. Yet given the research, perhaps this modest lifestyle might have the opposite effect and made them more critical and quicker to judge other poor landless individuals negatively. 

Therefore, it is necessary to modify our proverb. Instead, perhaps the saying should be, “don’t judge others, for you can never truly understand their journey.” This way, we aren’t giving permission to judge others only if you have had similar experiences, rather we are reminding others that our judgement about others are most likely to fall short of capturing the true essence of their actions. In such a way, the reliance of the Levites on the other Israelites then might be less about encouraging the Levites to judge others in similar situations more favorably, and more about a constant reminder that people are more than their station in life. And subsequently, a lesson for us to remember is that each person comes with a unique background, and we shouldn’t judge others even if we have walked in their shoes. 

Shabbat Shalom

Sun, July 14 2024 8 Tammuz 5784