The Klausenberger Rebbe shared a beautiful thought after surviving the concentration camps:

There is one thing I miss about the Holocaust. When I went through the death march, we were all clean-shaven, and our hair was shaved off, too. We all marched side by side, and no one knew who was who. No one knew I was a Rebbe. We all just held our arms around each other and tried to keep warm and keep our fellows warm.

All too often, we make snap judgments based on appearance, status or clothing. We label people as being of a certain “kind” of Judaism. This judgment leads to separation instead of unity, which we desperately need today.

The Policeman vs. the Pirate

Judging based on external factors is natural. Think about the following scenario: A policeman is standing at an intersection, barking out orders and moving his arms to assist in the flow of traffic. Imagine that same policeman, making identical gestures, but he’s wearing a pirate costume. As onlookers, we will relate very differently to the officer based on the clothing he’s wearing.

We often relate to others based on externals; our challenge is to strip away the outer shell and see the person before us for who they are.

Sometimes, we judge people by their clothing, and other times we judge them according to their actions. While it is human nature to judge people, the Torah requires us to judge on the side of merit. (Avot 1: 6)

Who Left the Hanger on the Floor?

One morning, I was going about my routine while my then-nine-month-old crawled around on the floor. I walked towards the closet and saw a dry-cleaning hanger lying sloppily on the floor. I started to fume. I thought, “How could my husband just leave a dangerous hanger on the floor like that? Doesn’t he know our baby could get hurt?”

Then I realized that it was my dry-cleaning hanger. I had left it there. Suddenly, every excuse came to mind: I was in a rush; I didn’t realize; I needed to attend to the crying baby, etc.

When it came to judging myself, I was extremely generous, but I did not extend the same courtesy to my husband.

The next time you are in a position where you have done something for which others could easily judge you, take mental notice of your reason. (For example: I left the hanger on the floor because the baby was crying, and I had to run to her.) Then take that excuse, file it in your mind and extend that excuse to someone else—almost like paying it forward.

This applies to even the most mundane of situations. Suppose you intended to text someone back; you even wrote up the response, but didn’t have the chance to press send. Days later, you realize that your text never went through.

The next time someone doesn’t respond to you, remember your personal excuse that you filed away. With that in mind, it becomes easier to judge your friend with favor.

Judging favorably is not about making up unrealistic excuses: “She is late because an elephant was crossing the street and blocking traffic.” It has to be believable. The way we make it believable is to connect it to something that happened to us.

When we are late because of factors like traffic or a child needing something as we were on our way out, we should file that reason and use it with regard to someone else.

Ketchup on Cucumbers

When my daughter Nava was a preschooler, she would ask for ketchup on every morsel of food (even cucumbers). One evening at dinner, I brought her a plate with a hot dog and bun laced with her usual ketchup. Surprisingly, she was disgusted. In an exasperated voice, she cried: “I don’t want the ketchup! Eeew!” as if it was an alien from outer space.

I was shocked and frustrated by her reaction. Her needs and wants felt like a moving target.

I remained calm as she asked (read: demanded) me to wipe the ketchup off, and just to be certain there was not a trace left, wash the hot dog. She also requested a fresh bun; G‑d forbid she should see any leftover ketchup markings. I quickly performed damage control, and in no time, her hot dog was as good as new.

Dinner continued, and as the meal progressed, I bet you can’t guess what she asked me for … “Wait, what?!” I was thinking, “After she made such a fuss about not wanting the ketchup!?”

Now, she wanted the ketchup on her plate only, but not touching any of her food. By the end of dinner, she meekly asked if I could help her put ketchup ON her second hot dog. If that’s not coming full-circle, I don't know what is.

Although at times I get frustrated, this time, rather than expressing annoyance, I reminded myself that she is just a child with developing tastes.

How was I able to keep my cool? Nava’s behavior reminded me of an experience I had when I was pregnant.

The Restaurant’s Minestrone Soup

I was at a restaurant and ordered minestrone soup. With my pregnancy-induced heightened taste buds, the soup was the best I had ever eaten. In fact, I insisted on having it the next night as well. Yet less than 24 hours later, I had a sip of the exact same soup and almost spit it out because it tasted so horrible. I even asked the chef if he had made a mistake, and he assured me that it had been the same recipe for the past 11 years.

With this memory of my own vacillating taste buds, I was able to control my annoyance about my daughter’s wavering tastes.

Judging ourselves in a favorable way comes naturally; it is extending the benefit of the doubt to others that is a challenge. “Do not judge another person until you have stood in his place.” (Avot 2:5)

Using the stories we told ourselves to excuse our mistakes in past circumstances helps us forgive others’ errors in present ones.