The Selfish Monster: An Amazing Story about Judging Others Favorably

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I was so furious at that mother.

There I was, making all the phone calls to set up a meeting for the 5 mothers from Hadas’ class whose daughters would be celebrating their bat mitzvahs together this coming January. We needed to get moving– to start coming up with a program, to start thinking about the refreshments, to get working on this…

My idea was that we would meet right after a meeting the school had set up for us mothers with a midwife about preparing our daughters for puberty. And all the mothers in Hadas’ bat mitzvah group agreed until I called the one mother I didn’t know on my list. I’ll call her Mrs. Levy.

From the other side of the line I heard a dignified, formal voice, as though I had accidentally been put through to the CEO of a Hi-Tech company or something. It was the kind of voice that made me feel acutely embarrassed of my beat up New Balance running shoes, and my apron with the word “Eema” emblazoned across the chest.

“Oh no,” she answered, “I don’t think that will work for us. I want my husband to be able to attend the meeting as well.”

At that moment, Mrs. Levy was downgraded from “the last mother to call on my list” to “The Royal Pain.”

But then Mrs. Levy softened. “I suppose I could attend the meeting, and then I could tell my husband afterwards what we discussed, and get his opinion…”

But I still hadn’t fully forgiven her.

And then the next day, having finally tracked down a babysitter, and having worked out all the logistics, I called the bat mitzvah mothers again right before I left the house to update them about the location of our meeting.

Mrs. Levy answered after a long time. “In the end,” she said a bit nervously, “I don’t think this is going to work out for me. I will have to leave immediately after the meeting with the midwife in order to attend a class in my neighborhood at 8:30 PM.”

I responded in a calm, vague way, but by the time I clicked off the phone I was boiling! I had made all these calls, and this woman had agreed to this meeting, and now some stupid class was more important to this woman than the bat mitzvah celebration of her own daughter! This was disgusting, unforgivable, a complete and total lack of basic human decency!

The whole busride to the school I was trying to decompress. But it was nearly impossible. I would just have to tell this Mrs. Levy that she had agreed to this time for the meeting and she would just have to miss her precious class. Or, I would have to tell her that we would be having the meeting without her. Or (my personal preference) that she and her daughter would just have to find a new bat mitzvah group to join!

I tried to judge this woman favorably, but how was it possible to judge such a complete and total pain favorably! What a phenomenally inconsiderate human being.

So I did something that almost always works to cool myself down. I prayed for this mother. I prayed that she will have marital harmony (maybe she has a terrible marriage, and her husband doesn’t trust her, and that’s why she insisted her husband had to come to the meeting as well), and that she will have so much nachas from her children, and that she will be healthy…and on and on. And it worked, somewhat… At least it enabled me start relating to Mrs. Levy as a human being rather than as a selfish monster.

But I still felt like I was getting taken advantage of. Why did I always have to be the one who was “working on myself” and therefore, in all situations, to be the resident frum SUCKER!

I arrived at the school, and I looked around for an unfamiliar face, but I didn’t see any mothers I didn’t know. So I asked my daughter’s teacher, “Where is the mother of Ayala Levy?”

The teacher’s mouth fell open– she looked like she’d seen a ghost.

I repeated myself, “Do you know who is the mother of Ayala Levy? I need to find her.”

The teacher, who is never at a loss for words, was speechless for several whole seconds.

And then she stuttered, “Ayala Levy doesn’t have a mother. Ayala’s mother is dead.”

I was stunned…”But I spoke with a woman, Ayala is in my daughter’s bat mitzvah group. And I invited a woman named Mrs. Levy to meet with us…”

The teacher explained, “Yes, that must have been Mr. Levy’s new wife. They got married last month.”

This explained the fact that Mrs. Levy wanted her husband to be there. It also explained why she favored the class over our meeting—probably she didn’t even really feel like she belonged at our “mother meeting” at all. In the end, she didn’t even show up at the meeting with the midwife.

Sitting in that meeting, it brought tears to my eyes to think of what a painful situation it must be for all involved that this young girl doesn’t have her own mother during this important period of transitions—spiritual, physical, emotional. What a painful and intensely awkward position, as well, for the new Mrs.Levy to find herself in.

It just goes to show you. By giving people the benefit of the doubt, you aren’t being a sucker. You are just recognizing that reality is so much more complicated than our human minds and hearts could ever comprehend.

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8 comments

  1. WoW! Thank you. We can all learn from this.

  2. amazing lesson

  3. What a great story! Thank you!

  4. Thank you for that reminder to pray for people we are angry at. It does remind us that they are human and not monsters. In addition, when we are looking for reasons to pray for them we are reminded how little we may actually know them and what the issues are in their lives – and so we then realize that we don’t actually know why they behave the way they do. And through this process we can give them the benefit of the doubt and stop being so angry.

  5. Such an important reminder, THANK YOU!

  6. Something tells me you are the type of person who would have judged her favorably from the start, but you’re illustrating the point by humbling yourself. Thanks for the great reminder!

  7. I am so inspired. This is an issue I constantly battle with. As you said,

    “But I still felt like I was getting taken advantage of. Why did I always have to be the one who was “working on myself” and therefore, in all situations, to be the resident frum SUCKER!”

    That is incredible! I am teaching a class with that topic today – your story will fit in perfectly. Hope you don’t mind…

  8. This is such a great story, thank you for sharing it with us!!!! May you be blessed with all the good things you wished upon the other woman ….

    Rabbi Nachman teaches that it really is important to try judge others favourably for another reason: we may actually be judging ourselves without realising it. We are often dealt a situation that we ourselves were once in, only with other characters, and from the Beit Din Shel Ma’ala we are given the opportunity to deliver our own verdict …. when we judge favourably everybody benefits.

    That’s why it’s so hard to do. There’s so much spiritual benefit, there is also an equal amount of spiritual resistance.

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