top of page

Until You Have Been in his Place

There's a saying in English, "Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes."

Scottish comedian, Billy Connolly, liked to add, "After that, who cares? He's a mile away. And you've got his shoes."

A similar saying (without the Connolly addendum) is attributed to Hillel the Elder (Ethics of the Fathers, 2:4):

"Don't judge your fellow man until you have been in his place"

The Hebrew word, maqom, which I translated above as "place," actually has more than one meaing. "Place," in the sense of "position" or "space" is just the most common. The word is used this way many times in the Hebrew Bible – perhaps most famously in the phrase, "the place the Lord, your God, will choose, to settle his name there" (Deuteronomy, 12:11), which refers traditionally to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

However, a second meaning of maqom, quite common in rabbinic literature and liturgy, is "God." The word is used this way in the Passover Haggadah ("Blessed is maqom, blessed is He"), and the Yom Kippur prayer service ("With maqom's agreement, and with the congregation's agreement").

Hillel's dictum can therefore be interpreted also as "Don't judge your fellow man until you reach his God." Or, in other words, don't judge your fellow man until you have understood what is for him the ultimate value – that in light of which he judges his own deeds.

Much of my work with educational and social leaders in Israel is an attempt to cultivate the practice of Hillel's dictum in this latter, more metaphorical, sense. Before judging others, we need first to understand and appreciate the core beliefs and values that underlie their opinions and behaviors. Only then can we hope to understand how and why they are different from our own opinions and behaviors and treat them respectfully as well-intended alternatives to our own. Indeed, unless we are able to suspend judgment of others in this way, our own self-judgment becomes impaired: We fail to acknowledge alternatives to our own view, and become blinkered and brittle.

Featured Posts
Search By Tags
No tags yet.
bottom of page