Who would be so daft to agree to a guilty verdict against themselves? You're right - no one. Ah, but here's the trick: If the Heavenly Court would ask us about ourselves, surely we'd have a whole string of "justified" reasons and excuses to get ourselves off the hot-seat. But, the Heavenly Court is crafty; we are asked to judge another person. Our judgment of a fellow human is in effect our judgment against ourselves, what's known as "the judgment trap". Chapter 12 of the Book of Samuel II shows us a prime example:
Nathan the Prophet asked King David for his opinion in judging a difficult matter: "There were two men,” said Nathan, “one rich and one poor. The rich man had very thousands of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing but one small ewe which he cared for in his own house alongside his children. The ewe ate from his bread, drank from his cup, and slept in his midst, just like a daughter.”
Nathan continued. “Then a guest came to the rich man. The wealthy host was too stingy to slaughter any of his own sheep to serve to the guest, and instead took the poor man’s ewe and prepared it for the guest.”
King David was outraged by the haughtiness and hardheartedness of the rich man, and declared, “As G‑d lives, the man who did this deserves to die! He shall pay fourfold for the ewe, since he did this and had no pity!”
By issuing a verdict in the case set before him, David had unwittingly set the rules for his own prosecution and conviction!
Nathan the Prophet cried out, “You are the man! David recognized the scope of his sin, admitted his guilt and repented for his actions. Afterwards, Nathan the Prophet conveyed G‑d’s message that He had accepted David's atonement.
We have to be extremely careful to avoid falling into "judgment traps" such as the one described in the above example. Before we voice an opinion, we should stop and think that we may be sentencing ourselves for a very similar misdeed. In order to avoid inadvertently sentencing ourselves with stiff verdicts, we should be lenient and understanding with others.
These last days before Rosh Hashanna are notorious for being weeks of "judgment traps". The best policy is to speak minimally now, limiting our speech to prayer, Torah learning, and nurturing healthy family relations. Limit speech to the barest necessity for whatever business, trade, or profession that we need to make a living. When we do speak, we should exercise extreme caution to avoid judging others. If we do judge others, we should go out of our way to give them the benefit of the doubt, be lenient, tolerant, and understanding. This is especially critical in our judgments of our spouses, children, and parents.
Nobody escapes judgment traps, so don't fall into them in the first place. Hopefully, having become aware of judgment traps, we won't sign harsh verdicts against ourselves or against our fellow human never ever again. May G-d bless all of us for an inscription in the Book of a long and healthy Life for a wonderfful New Year 5780, amen.