Rabbi Joshua ben Prachia says: “Make for yourself a mentor, acquire a friend and judge everyone favorably.” (Avot 1:6)

It was brutally hot, and the incline hadn’t gotten any less steep since my last visit. Going down was pretty easy; it was going back up that I dreaded. Oh well, enough time to worry about that later. I continued on my way down the mountain slope, soon reaching the gate of the ancient cemetery. I entered and went down the concrete steps, down and further down until I finally reached the gravesite of the Arizal (Rabbi Isaac Luria).

There were some others gathered there, all praying and fervently saying verses of Psalms. This one prayed to find their life partner, another for their family member to recover from illness. There’s somehow never a lack of things to pray for.

I remained there for about 15 minutes, saying Psalms for all my family members, praying that G‑d grant each and every one all they may need, whether material wealth, health or spiritual needs. Please G‑d, may Sol have an easy recovery from surgery and be finally free of pain; may Rivky get into the college she applied to; may we all pay all our monthly bills with ease.

Sighing, I closed my prayer book. It’s time to tackle the uphill slope. I trudged up the stairs; it was so hot! After reaching the top, I went out of the gate of the cemetery and washed my hands by the available sink, as Jewish law requires. Afterwards, I finally opened the water bottle tucked in my purse. That water felt so good going down my throat.

Now I’m hopefully ready for the long uphill climb. I refill my bottle and attack the path with new vigor. If only I could get a ride. Oh, I see now there’s a car riding slowly alongside. The driver glanced in my direction; she must have seen me walking. I signal her for a ride but she seems to be ignoring me. What nerve! She is sitting comfortably in her nearly empty, air-conditioned car and is patently ignoring me. How annoying. How despicable. It wouldn’t cost her anything to take me along; it would be such an easy mitzvah for her to do.

Uh oh. I now recall learning about another important mitzvah—to judge others fairly, to give them the benefit of the doubt. Yes, she has her challenge, deciding whether to offer to do me a favor or not. But that’s her business, entirely between her and G‑d; not mine. My challenge is to try to excuse her behavior and even judge her favorably for not giving me what seems to be so easy.

Her car looks empty, so it’s not because she doesn’t have any room. Still trudging in the heat, I turn this over in my mind.

Maimonides teaches it is a Torah obligation to judge one’s fellow favorably. He writes: “When you are unsure about a certain individual whether or not he is righteous or wicked, and you witness him doing an act or saying something that may be interpreted as either good or bad. In such a case, judge favorably and do not think he is doing something wrong.

“And if you do not know the individual involved, and the action itself is of an ambiguous nature, leaning neither toward one side or the other, then according to the ways of piety, it is proper to judge favorably ... ”

If I know someone generally behaves properly, I’m obligated to assume that’s still true even if now this person appears to be acting out of character.

I don’t think I’m obligated to judge this woman favorably. I don’t know her at all; maybe she isn’t such a nice person. I stop a moment to take another drink. On the other hand, the Rebbe teaches we should always try to think of ways to judge others favorably, no matter if we know them or not. This in itself reveals hidden potential and gives them additional ability to overcome any obstacles in their way.

Not only that, but the sages teach that G‑d deals with us measure for measure, the same as we behave. If I want G‑d to give me the benefit of the doubt, I should try to do the same.

In that case, I should try to give her the benefit of doubt, too. I’ll have to dig deeper. Perhaps her friend cautioned her against picking up hitchhikers of any kind, in any place, even in the middle of ancient Tzfat. Yes, that’s possible! Or, perhaps she’s on an important confidential phone call and cannot have anyone riding with her.

Come to think of it, she really doesn’t owe me a ride. It would be a nice thing for her to do, but definitely not an obligation. I really can’t judge her badly for that.

I feel so much better now about her, and my walk even seems just a bit easier.

Oh, she’s signaling to me now; she pulled down her window and asked if I would like a lift! I earned a ride and a favorable judgment ...