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The Importance of Positive Judgment: How I Became a Noahide

The following personal essay was submitted to the Asknoah.org web site by a Noahide who wishes to share his spiritual journey with our visitors.

“Judge every person favorably.” – Pirkei Avot [Ethics of the Fathers] 1:6

In my teenage years, if there was one friend I could have a meaningful conversation with, it was Frederick. When we went for walks or called each other, time became a myth. We’d check the time and, boom, it had been four hours.

However, we were drastically different people. He was a Noahide at age 16; I was an openly homosexual atheist. Frederick wore formal clothing and a fedora; I wore short shorts and round rose-gold glasses. He spoke formally to everyone, choosing his words carefully, whereas I had a sailor mouth and tried to assume a flamboyant demeanor.

With every conversation, Frederick brought up his religion. He never forced his beliefs on me in a contemptible way; rather, he patiently encouraged me to give his beliefs a chance. Still, I took everything with a grain of salt because of my atheistic attitude. He said I would do well to consider belief in G-d, and I always answered: “You cannot convince me.”

My answer was rooted in my past. All my life, I had been exposed to the Christian idea of G-d: A deity in the shape of a man who had somehow allowed all the hypocrisies of Christianity to spread like heretical wildfire. I could not possibly accept the existence of G-d with this idea firmly planted in my head.

While I could not prove that G-d did not exist, this seed of an idea had already grown into a mature tree. Every time Frederick encouraged me to believe, he approached my tree with a shovel. Yet, he always found the tree stuck in place, as if the soil was too hard.

One night, as we played video games together, he brought up his beliefs again. By then, I was used to it, so I tolerated him: “I’ll let him have his fill, but I won’t come to believe any of it.”

Except, that night, he said something that made sense. He successfully drove that shovel into the dirt around my tree. It was: “The only thing that can come out of any ailment is some kind of good.”

I whipped out a piece of paper and wrote it down. It struck home because just a few days earlier, I was having suicidal thoughts. I was rolling in the deep. I cannot recall why I was, but my depression effectively watered and softened the soil surrounding my tree. This does not mean that one has to be weak to find G-d, and nor does it say that believers only believe because they are weak. In fact, Jews and Noahides are some of the most strong, resolute people I know of. Rather, my anxiety and depression — which was a low simmer until that point — showed me that I was on the wrong path.

As an atheist, I approached everything logically with zero emuna [faith]. This is how every atheist approaches any religious belief: “Prove it to me with logic.” Thanks to this mindset, I had a lot of questions.

What Frederick went on to say began to make sense; I jotted more notes down as he spoke. Most surprised me — they were not the Christian beliefs I was used to. This further sparked my interest. I thought, this is different! There’s something here…

After that night, I started to read. I read on my own, I read what Frederick sent me, and I heeded his advice to stay away from certain Rabbis and websites. My main obstacle by the end of the week was that I wanted logical proof that the Torah was the word of G-d rather than a bunch of stories written by a single person or many different monks and sages. But when he introduced me to the Kuzari argument, I could no longer deny the Torah. After another month of reading and listening to shiurim [Torah-based classes], I declared myself a Noahide.

Over that month, as I learned the details of the Seven Noahide Laws and that the influence of my social environment could easily lead me to transgress, I realized that nearly everyone around me violated the Seven Laws in some way or did other things that G-d despises. They complained, accepted and partook in forbidden relations, lied and stole from each other, gossiped, committed blasphemy, et cetera. These negative qualities were all I saw in people, including my friends.

As a result, I became a recluse. When the semester ended, I even negatively judged my parents in such a way that threatened to put distance between us. But soon, and I thank G-d for how soon it was, I remembered the quote above: “Judge every person favorably.” I was doing the exact opposite!

I longed to repair this leak in my system, so I read two articles [1], [2] and asked Frederick about the issue. As usual, Frederick gave me troves of guidance, blessed be his soul. The articles went in depth into the Jewish principles of judging others favorably, but one quote in particular read:

“In other words, look not to what he is but to what he can be. Dwell not on the way in which he has negatively expressed his potential, but on what his potential truly consists of. Believe in the potential, and it will materialize.” [2]

The next day, I realized with the help of G-d (for I had prayed for guidance) that Frederick could have done what I was doing. He could have judged me purely as a homosexual atheist and therefore distanced himself from me. Instead, he gently tried again and again to turn me in a new direction. He paid attention to who I could be and chose to see the better qualities I already had. In other words, he chose to judge favorably.

Upon this realization, I asked him, “Why did you think I could become a Noahide?” He then told me that he prayed to G-d that He would guide my soul in the right direction, and he recited the Hassidic teaching that everyone contains a divine spark that no amount of sin can obstruct. In other words, he judged favorably, had empathy, gave me the benefit of the doubt, and chose to focus on my potential. For that, my gratitude toward him is infinite.

We should all do our best to emulate Frederick’s method of judging others, not to mention his way of going about kiruv*. By judging positively, he was able to change my life for the better. It just takes a little effort, which no one should be afraid of. We can bring out the best qualities in most people by simply paying attention to their positive qualities. Don’t sink into the trap of negative judgment. Not only that, but it feels good to see everyone positively. Trust me — G-d had me see both sides.

I’d like to leave you with the third thing that Frederick said fueled his efforts, which is another Hassidic teaching:

“In a freezing room, you can either bundle up more and just wear heavier, more insulating clothes… or you can light a fire.”

Footnotes:

[1] Essay and video animation: Critic Theme: Judging Others Favorably, by Hanan Harchol.

[2] Essay: Judging Others Favorably, by Rabbi Yona Matusof, Director of Chabad of Madison, Wisconsin.

*kiruv: Hebrew for “bringing close” — the obligation to bring people closer to recognizing and adhering to the truth of Torah.