Seeking the Good in Others and in Ourselves
1 א

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, transl. Constance Garnett

"The Onion" Part III, Book VII, Chapter III

“You see, Alyosha,” Grushenka turned to him with a nervous laugh. “I was boasting when I told Rakitin I had given away an onion, but it's not to boast I tell you about it. It's only a story, but it's a nice story. I used to hear it when I was a child from Matryona, my cook, who is still with me. It's like this. Once upon a time there was a peasant woman and a very wicked woman she was. And she died and did not leave a single good deed behind. The devils caught her and plunged her into the lake of fire. So her guardian angel stood and wondered what good deed of hers he could remember to tell to God; ‘She once pulled up an onion in her garden,’ said he, ‘and gave it to a beggar woman.’ And God answered: ‘You take that onion then, hold it out to her in the lake, and let her take hold and be pulled out. And if you can pull her out of the lake, let her come to Paradise, but if the onion breaks, then the woman must stay where she is.’The angel ran to the woman and held out the onion to her. ‘Come,’ said he, ‘catch hold and I'll pull you out.’ And he began cautiously pulling her out. He had just pulled her right out, when the other sinners in the lake, seeing how she was being drawn out, began catching hold of her so as to be pulled out with her. But she was a very wicked woman and she began kicking them. ‘I'm to be pulled out, not you. It's my onion, not yours.’ As soon as she said that, the onion broke. And the woman fell into the lake and she is burning there to this day. So the angel wept and went away. So that's the story, Alyosha; I know it by heart, for I am that wicked woman myself. (pp. 391-2)

2 ב

(ט) כִּֽי־מְ֭רֵעִים יִכָּרֵת֑וּן וְקֹוֵ֥י ה' הֵ֣מָּה יִֽירְשׁוּ־אָֽרֶץ׃ (י) וְע֣וֹד מְ֭עַט וְאֵ֣ין רָשָׁ֑ע וְהִתְבּוֹנַ֖נְתָּ עַל־מְקוֹמ֣וֹ וְאֵינֶֽנּוּ׃ (יא) וַעֲנָוִ֥ים יִֽירְשׁוּ־אָ֑רֶץ וְ֝הִתְעַנְּג֗וּ עַל־רֹ֥ב שָׁלֽוֹם׃

(9) For evil men will be cut off, but those who look to the LORD— they shall inherit the land. (10) A little longer (עוד, 'still'/persistence) and there will be no wicked man; you will look at where he was— he will be gone. (11) But the lowly shall inherit the land, and delight in abundant well-being.

3 ג

(ב) אֲהַלְלָ֣ה ה' בְּחַיָּ֑י אֲזַמְּרָ֖ה לֵֽאלֹקַ֣י בְּעוֹדִֽי׃

(2) I will praise the LORD all my life, sing hymns to my God while I exist (with my עוד, my persistence).

4 ד

(ו) יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בֶּן פְּרַחְיָה וְנִתַּאי הָאַרְבֵּלִי קִבְּלוּ מֵהֶם. יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בֶּן פְּרַחְיָה אוֹמֵר, עֲשֵׂה לְךָ רַב, וּקְנֵה לְךָ חָבֵר, וֶהֱוֵי דָן אֶת כָּל הָאָדָם לְכַף זְכוּת:

(6) Yehoshua ben Perachiah and Nitai of Arbel received from them. Yehoshua ben Perachia says, "Make for yourself a mentor, acquire for yourself a friend and judge every person as meritorious (lit., to the scale of merit)."

5 ה
6 ו

Themis, Itojyuku, Shibuya-ku, Japan (Wikipedia, Lady Justice, 3/8/18)

7 ז

(א) דַּע, כִּי צָרִיךְ לָדוּן אֶת כָּל אָדָם לְכַף זְכוּת, וַאֲפִלּוּ מִי שֶׁהוּא רָשָׁע גָּמוּר, צָרִיךְ לְחַפֵּשׂ וְלִמְצֹא בּוֹ אֵיזֶה מְעַט טוֹב, שֶׁבְּאוֹתוֹ הַמְּעַט אֵינוֹ רָשָׁע, וְעַל יְדֵי זֶה שֶׁמּוֹצֵא בּוֹ מְעַט טוֹב, וְדָן אוֹתוֹ לְכַף זְכוּת, עַל־יְדֵי־זֶה מַעֲלֶה אוֹתוֹ בֶּאֱמֶת לְכַף זְכוּת, וְיוּכַל לַהֲשִׁיבוֹ בִּתְשׁוּבָה.

וְזֶה בְּחִינַת (תהלים לז): וְעוֹד מְעַט וְאֵין רָשָׁע וְהִתְבּוֹנַנְתָּ עַל מְקוֹמוֹ וְאֵינֶנּוּ; הַיְנוּ שֶׁהַפָּסוּק מַזְהִיר לָדוּן אֶת הַכֹּל לְכַף זְכוּת, וְאַף־עַל־פִּי שֶׁאַתָּה רוֹאֶה שֶׁהוּא רָשָׁע גָּמוּר, אַף־עַל־פִּי־כֵן צָרִיךְ אַתָּה לְחַפֵּשׂ וּלְבַקֵּשׁ לִמְצֹא בּוֹ מְעַט טוֹב, שֶׁשָּׁם אֵינוֹ רָשָׁע. וְזֶהוּ: וְעוֹד מְעַט וְאֵין רָשָׁע – שֶׁצָּרִיךְ אַתָּה לְבַקֵּשׁ בּוֹ עוֹד מְעַט טוֹב, שֶׁיֵּשׁ בּוֹ עֲדַיִן, שֶׁשָּׁם אֵינוֹ רָשָׁע, כִּי אַף־עַל־פִּי שֶׁהוּא רָשָׁע, אֵיךְ אֶפְשָׁר שֶׁאֵין בּוֹ מְעַט טוֹב עֲדַיִן, כִּי אֵיךְ אֶפְשָׁר שֶׁלֹּא עָשָׂה אֵיזֶה מִצְוָה אוֹ דָּבָר טוֹב מִיָּמָיו?

וְעַל־יְדֵי־זֶה שֶׁאַתָּה מוֹצֵא בּוֹ עוֹד מְעַט טוֹב, שֶׁשָּׁם אֵינוֹ רָשָׁע, וְאַתָּה דָּן אוֹתוֹ לְכַף זְכוּת, עַל־יְדֵי־זֶה אַתָּה מַעֲלֶה אוֹתוֹ בֶּאֱמֶת מִכַּף חוֹבָה לְכַף זְכוּת, עַד שֶׁיָּשׁוּב בִּתְשׁוּבָה עַל־יְדֵי־זֶה.

וְזֶהוּ: וְעוֹד מְעַט וְאֵין רָשָׁע – עַל־יְדֵי שֶׁמּוֹצֵא בְּהָרָשָׁע עוֹד מְעַט טוֹב, שֶׁשָּׁם אֵינוֹ רָשָׁע, עַל־יְדֵי־זֶה: וְהִתְבּוֹנַנְתָּ עַל מְקוֹמוֹ וְאֵינֶנּוּ – הַיְנוּ כְּשֶׁתִּתְבּוֹנֵן וְתִסְתַּכֵּל עַל מְקוֹמוֹ וּמַדְרֵגָתוֹ, וְאֵינֶנּוּ שָׁם עַל מְקוֹמוֹ הָרִאשׁוֹן, כִּי עַל־יְדֵי שֶׁמּוֹצְאִין בּוֹ עוֹד מְעַט טוֹב, אֵיזֶה נְקֻדָּה טוֹבָה, וְדָנִין אוֹתוֹ לְכַף זְכוּת, עַל־יְדֵי־זֶה מוֹצִיאִין אוֹתוֹ בֶּאֱמֶת מִכַּף חוֹבָה לְכַף זְכוּת. וְזֶהוּ: וְהִתְבּוֹנַנְתָּ עַל מְקוֹמוֹ וְאֵינֶנּוּ כַּנַּ"ל, וְהָבֵן:

(1) Know, that one must judge every person charitably (lit., "to the scale of merit"). Even if someone is completely wicked, one must seek to find in him some modicum (Heb. me'at) of goodness, in connection with which he is not wicked. By finding in him a modicum of goodness, and judging him charitably, one truly raises him to the scale of merit and is able to bring him back in repentance.

This is conceptually connected (bechinat) to the verse "A persistent modicum (Heb. עוד מעט `od me'at, usually translated as 'a little longer') and there will be no wicked man; you will look at where he was— he will be gone" (Psalms 37:10). That is, the verse bids one to judge everyone charitably. Even though you see that [another person] is completely wicked, nevertheless you must seek and inquire to find in him a modicum of good, for there he is not wicked. This is alluded to by the phrase "a persistent modicum and there will be no wicked man" - you have to search out in him a modicum of good that is still in him, for there he is not wicked. For even though he is wicked, how is it possible that there is not still a modicum of good in him? For how is it possible that he never performed a mitzvah or a good deed in all his days?

By finding in him a modicum of good, where he is not wicked, and judging him charitably, you truly raise him from the scale of guilt to the scale of merit, so that he may turn back in repentance.

Thus, "A persistent [עוד] modicum and there will be no wicked man"-- by finding in the wicked a modicum of good, where he is not wicked, "you will look at where he was— he will be gone."

That is, when you consider and look closely at his place and level, he is no longer in his first place, because by means of finding in him a modicum of good, a good point (nekudah tovah), and judging him charitably, he is truly removed from the scale of guilt to the scale of merit. This is alluded to by the verse, "you will look at where he was— he will be gone." Understand this well.

8 ח

(ב) וְכֵן צָרִיךְ הָאָדָם לִמְצֹא גַּם בְּעַצְמוֹ. כִּי זֶה יָדוּעַ, שֶׁצָּרִיךְ הָאָדָם לִזָּהֵר מְאֹד לִהְיוֹת בְּשִׂמְחָה תָּמִיד, וּלְהַרְחִיק הָעַצְבוּת מְאֹד מְאֹד (כַּמְבֹאָר אֶצְלֵנוּ כַּמָּה פְּעָמִים)

וַאֲפִלּוּ כְּשֶׁמַּתְחִיל לְהִסְתַּכֵּל בְּעַצְמוֹ וְרוֹאֶה שֶׁאֵין בּוֹ שׁוּם טוֹב, וְהוּא מָלֵא חֲטָאִים, וְרוֹצֶה הַבַּעַל דָּבָר לְהַפִּילוֹ עַל יְדֵי זֶה בְּעַצְבוּת וּמָרָה שְׁחוֹרָה, חַס וְשָׁלוֹם, אַף־עַל־פִּי־כֵן אָסוּר לוֹ לִפֹּל מִזֶּה, רַק צָרִיךְ לְחַפֵּשׂ וְלִמְצֹא בְּעַצְמוֹ אֵיזֶה מְעַט טוֹב, כִּי אֵיךְ אֶפְשָׁר שֶׁלֹּא עָשָׂה מִיָּמָיו אֵיזֶה מִצְוָה אוֹ דָּבָר טוֹב,

וְאַף שֶׁכְּשֶׁמַּתְחִיל לְהִסְתַּכֵּל בְּאוֹתוֹ הַדָּבָר הַטּוֹב, הוּא רוֹאֶה שֶׁהוּא גַּם כֵּן מָלֵא פְּצָעִים וְאֵין בּוֹ מְתֹם, הַיְנוּ שֶׁרוֹאֶה שֶׁגַּם הַמִּצְוָה וְהַדָּבָר שֶׁבִּקְדֻשָּׁה שֶׁזָּכָה לַעֲשׂוֹת, הוּא גַּם כֵּן מָלֵא פְּנִיּוֹת וּמַחֲשָׁבוֹת זָרוֹת וּפְגָמִים הַרְבֵּה, עִם כָּל זֶה אֵיךְ אֶפְשָׁר שֶׁלֹּא יִהְיֶה בְּאוֹתָהּ הַמִּצְוָה וְהַדָּבָר שֶׁבִּקְדֻשָּׁה אֵיזֶה מְעַט טוֹב, כִּי עַל כָּל פָּנִים אֵיךְ שֶׁהוּא, עַל־כָּל־פָּנִים הָיָה אֵיזֶה נְקֻדָּה טוֹבָה בְּהַמִּצְוָה וְהַדָּבָר טוֹב שֶׁעָשָׂה, כִּי צָרִיךְ הָאָדָם לְחַפֵּשׂ וּלְבַקֵּשׁ לִמְצֹא בְּעַצְמוֹ אֵיזֶה מְעַט טוֹב, כְּדֵי לְהַחֲיוֹת אֶת עַצְמוֹ, וְלָבוֹא לִידֵי שִׂמְחָה כַּנַּ"ל,

וְעַל יְדֵי זֶה שֶׁמְּחַפֵּשׂ וּמוֹצֵא בְּעַצְמוֹ עֲדַיִן מְעַט טוֹב, עַל־יְדֵי־זֶה הוּא יוֹצֵא בֶּאֱמֶת מִכַּף חוֹבָה לְכַף זְכוּת, וְיוּכַל לָשׁוּב בִּתְשׁוּבָה, בִּבְחִינוֹת: וְעוֹד מְעַט וְאֵין רָשָׁע וְהִתְבּוֹנַנְתָּ עַל מְקוֹמוֹ וְאֵינֶנּוּ, כַּנַּ"ל. הַיְנוּ כְּמוֹ שֶׁצְּרִיכִין לָדוּן אֲחֵרִים לְכַף זְכוּת, אֲפִלּוּ אֶת הָרְשָׁעִים, וְלִמְצֹא בָּהֶם אֵיזֶה נְקֻדּוֹת טוֹבוֹת, וְעַל־יְדֵי־זֶה מוֹצִיאִין אוֹתָם בֶּאֱמֶת מִכַּף חוֹבָה לְכַף זְכוּת, בִּבְחִינַת: וְעוֹד מְעַט וְכוּ' וְהִתְבּוֹנַנְתָּ וְכוּ' כַּנַּ"ל. ...

וּכְמוֹ כֵן צָרִיךְ לְחַפֵּשׂ עוֹד, לִמְצֹא בְּעַצְמוֹ עוֹד אֵיזֶה דָּבָר טוֹב, וְאַף שֶׁגַּם אוֹתוֹ הַדָּבָר הַטּוֹב הוּא גַּם־כֵּן מְעֹרָב בִּפְסֹלֶת הַרְבֵּה, עִם כָּל זֶה יוֹצִיא מִשָּׁם גַּם־כֵּן אֵיזֶה נְקֻדָּה טוֹבָה. וְכֵן יְחַפֵּשׂ וִילַקֵּט עוֹד הַנְּקֻדּוֹת טוֹבוֹת, וְעַל־יְדֵי־זֶה נַעֲשִׂין נִגּוּנִים, כַּמְבֹאָר בְּמָקוֹם אַחֵר (במאמר ויהי מקץ בסי' נ"ד), בְּחִינַת מְנַגֵּן בִּכְלֵי זֶמֶר, שֶׁהוּא בְּחִינַת שֶׁמְּלַקֵּט הָרוּחַ טוֹבָה מִן הָרוּחַ נְכֵאָה עַצְבוּת רוּחַ, עַיֵּן שָׁם. ....

וְעַל כֵּן עַל יְדֵי שֶׁאֵינוֹ מַנִּיחַ לְהַפִּיל אֶת עַצְמוֹ וּמְחַיֶּה אֶת עַצְמוֹ בַּמֶּה שֶּׁמְּחַפֵּשׂ וּמְבַקֵּשׁ וּמוֹצֵא בְּעַצְמוֹ אֵיזֶה נְקֻדּוֹת טוֹבוֹת, וּמְלַקֵּט וּמְבָרֵר אֵלּוּ הַנְּקֻדּוֹת טוֹבוֹת מִתּוֹךְ הָרָע וְהַפְּסֹלֶת שֶׁבּוֹ וְכוּ' כַּנַּ"ל, עַל־יְדֵי־זֶה נַעֲשִׂין נִגּוּנִים כַּנַּ"ל, וַאֲזַי הוּא יָכוֹל לְהִתְפַּלֵּל וּלְזַמֵּר וּלְהוֹדוֹת לַה'. כִּי זֶה יָדוּעַ שֶׁכְּשֶׁהָאָדָם נוֹפֵל בְּדַעְתּוֹ מֵחֲמַת גַּשְׁמִיּוּתוֹ וּמַעֲשָׂיו הָרָעִים, שֶׁרוֹאֶה שֶׁהוּא רָחוֹק מְאֹד מְאֹד מִן הַקְּדֻשָּׁה בֶּאֱמֶת, אֲזַי עַל־פִּי רֹב אֵינוֹ יָכוֹל לְהִתְפַּלֵּל כְּלָל מֵחֲמַת זֶה, וְאֵינוֹ יָכוֹל לִפְתֹּחַ פִּיו כְּלָל, מֵחֲמַת גֹּדֶל הָעַצְבוּת וְהַמָּרָה שְׁחוֹרָה וְהַכְּבֵדוּת שֶׁנּוֹפֵל עָלָיו, עַל־יְדֵי שֶׁרוֹאֶה גֹּדֶל עֹצֶם רִחוּקוֹ מֵהַשֵּׁם יִתְבָּרַךְ. ...

(2) Just so, one must find [a modicum of good] in himself as well. For it is well-known that one must take great care to be in a state of happiness at all times and to keep sadness very very distant (as we have explained several times).

Even when one begins to scrutinize himself and sees that there is no goodness in him, and that he is full of sins, and the Plaintiff (lit. ba'al davar, one who has a claim; fig. the Evil One) desires to cause his downfall through sadness and depression (lit. black bile, melancholy), Heaven forfend, nevertheless it is forbidden for him to fall on this account. He must just seek to find in himself some modicum of good, for how is it possible that he has not performed in all his days some mitzvah or good deed?

And even [if], when one begins to scrutinize that good deed, he sees that it is full of flaws and has no soundness, that is to say, that one sees that even that mitzvah or holy deed that he merited to perform, it too is full of turnings and inappropriate intentions and many imperfections, nevertheless, how is it possible that there should not be in that mitzvah or holy deed some modicum of good? For, no matter how things are, there must have been some good point in the mitzvah or the good dead that he performed. For one must search out and seek to find in himself some modicum of good, in order to revive himself, and to attain joy, as mentioned above.

By seeking to find in himself that there is still a modicum of good, he truly leaves the scale of guilt for the scale of merit, so that he is able to turn back in repentance. This is connected conceptually to the verse, "A persistent modicum (Heb. עוד מעט `od me'at/'a little longer') and there will be no wicked man; you will look at where he was— he will be gone," as mentioned above...

Similarly, one must seek further, to find in himself another good deed. Even if that good deed likewise is mixed with much waste (פסולת), he will be able to extract from there likewise some good point. And thus one should seek to collect further good points (or "notes"/נקודות). In this way melodies are made, as explained in another place (Likutei Moharan 54), which is the concept of playing a musical instrument, which is related to collecting good breath (spirit, רוח) from the spirit of gloom and sadness, see there....

When one does not allow himself to fall, and revives himself by searching, seeking, and finding in himself some good points, and gathers and clarifies these good points from the bad and the waste that is in him, as stated above--in this way melodies are formed, and then he is able to pray, to sing, and to give thanks to God. For it is well-known that when one despairs on account of his physicality and evil deeds, seeing that he is really very, very far from holiness, then in most cases he is unable to pray at all, and is unable to open his mouth at all, due to the greatness of his sadness and melancholy and the heaviness that befalls him, since he sees the great force of his alienation (distancing, ריחוקו) from Hashem, may He be blessed...

9 ט

(ג) וְזֶה בְּחִינַת (תהלים קמו): אֲזַמְּרָה לֵאלֹקַי בְּעוֹדִי – בְּעוֹדִי דַּיְקָא, הַיְנוּ עַל יְדֵי בְּחִינַת הָעוֹד שֶׁלִּי, שֶׁאֲנִי מוֹצֵא בְּעַצְמִי בְּחִינַת: עוֹד מְעַט וְאֵין רָשָׁע כַּנַּ"ל, עַל יְדֵי אוֹתָהּ הַנְּקֻדָּה, עַל־יְדֵי־זֶה אוּכַל לְזַמֵּר וּלְהוֹדוֹת לַה' כַּנַּ"ל. וְזֶהוּ: אֲזַמְּרָה – אֲזַמְּרָה דַּיְקָא, הַיְנוּ זְמִירוֹת וְנִגּוּנִים שֶׁנַּעֲשִׂין עַל יְדֵי שֶׁמְּלַקֵּט הַנְּקֻדּוֹת טוֹבוֹת כַּנַּ"ל:

(3) This is connected conceptually with the verse, "I will sing songs to my God while I exist (=בעודי, through my עוד/still)" (Psalms 146:2)--precisely through "my still/persistence" (עוד), that is, by means of the concept of my עוד/persistence, that I find in myself--related to "A persistent modicum (עוד מעט) and there will be no wicked man; you will look at where he was— he will be gone" (Psalms 37:10), as mentioned above. By means of this point/note (נקודה) [that is, the עוד/the modicum of goodness that persists], I will be able to sing and to give thanks to Hashem, as mentioned above. Thus, "I will sing"--it is precisely that I will sing, that is, songs and melodies that are made by means of collecting the good notes, as mentioned above.