Post-flood. The survivors: Noah, his wife, sons, and daughters-in-law, and lots and lots of animals.

They leave the ark and offer thanksgiving sacrifices. Noah plants a vineyard, gets sloshed and collapses in a heap inside his tent.

The reaction of his sons differ. "Ham ... saw the nakedness of his father and told his brothers. Shem and Japheth... walked backwards and covered their father... their faces were turned away and they didn't see their father's nakedness" (Genesis 9:22-23).

One of the foundations of Chassidic philosophy is the belief that nothing happens by chance. Every act we may observe holds a lesson to be integrated. What lesson is there in seeing evil, observing another person sin?

Answer: You aren't seeing him, you're watching yourself. When presented with the specter of another doing wrong, search the dark crevasses of your past conduct and you'll find the same transgression lurking.

The way you react, the verdict you pass when commenting on the behavior of others, will be dredged up and used against you on your personal day of judgment.

Can I help you?

Is this always true? Must I believe that all evil I observe is a self-commentary? What about the value of rebuke—surely sometimes we observe the peccadilloes of others for no other reason than to help them correct themselves?

The varied reactions of his sons to Noah's disgrace demonstrate the difference: Of course the opportunity to help another may present itself, and of course we must be on the lookout to guide miscreants back onto the straight and narrow, but to do so demands awareness, not self-righteousness. We've all met moral crusaders who enjoy nothing better than discovering fresh sins of their neighbors. Ham was confronted with the exact same situation as his brothers, but whereas their reaction was to fix the problem but resolutely keep their backs turned, he "saw his fathers disgrace" and reveled in it.

When confronted with the failings of others, do we look to help or to gloat? Just remember, whichever way we react is to pass judgment on nobody but ourselves.