main postsPirkei Avot

Pirkei Avot 1:6 Even the Wicked can Become Great

Joshua Ben Perachia and Nitai the Arbelite received from them. Joshua Ben Perachia would say: Assume for yourself a master, acquire for yourself a friend, and judge every man to the side of merit. (Pirkei Avot 1:6)

The Lubavitcher Rebbe would associate the words of Joshua Ben Perachia with the events in his life.[1] The Talmud says[2] “The left should always reject and the right should draw near…not like Joshua Ben Perachia, who pushed Yeshu the Notzri away with his two hands.” It is told that Yehoshua Ben Perachia and his disciple Yeshu stayed at an inn. When they left, Yehoshua Ben Perachia said, “How beautiful is this inn.” His disciple, however, was less enthusiastic – “The eyes of the (female) innkeeper are not beautiful.”

“You wicked person!” Rabbi Joshua answered. “That is what concerns you?” He ostracized him. Yeshu bowed down to idol worship. At that point, Joshua Ben Perachia asked his former disciple to return from his evil ways.

“This is what I have learned from you,” Yeshu replied. “Any person who sins and causes the public to sin, he is not given the time to repent…”

After this story, the Lubavitcher Rebbe explains, Joshua Ben Perachia emphasized the rule “Judge every man – even Yeshu the Notzri, who sinned and caused others to sin – to the side of merit.”

The commentators[3] say that “Judge every man to the side of merit” does not refer to a consummately evil person, who should be judged to the side of culpability. This applies to the simple approach of the Rabbinical Court here on earth. But when relating to Heaven in our thoughts, we should judge even the consummately evil person favorably, and if we succeed, he will indeed be transformed and repent!

How could Yeshu have repented? After all, he sinned and caused the public to sin. The Tanya explains that everyone can repent, “For the matter is very close to you.”[4] Even if it is said about a person that “he is not given the time to repent”, this means that “We do not hold his hand to encourage him with a favorable time to repent, but if he persevered and repented, you have no matter that can stand in the face of repentance.”[5] Even a consummately evil person can repent in one moment – so much so that “his intentional sins become merits for him.”[6] (And if that sinner could repent, how much more so is it possible for each and every one of us)!

The ability to favorably judge a consummately evil person comes from the ability to view his hidden potential. This is the role of our generation, the generation of Mashiach. It is written that in the future, we will determine the law according to the opinion of the House of Shammai,[7] who rendered their judgments according to the potential (as opposed to the House of Hillel, who rendered their judgments according to the actual situation).[8] When we look at the potential of a wicked person and recognize the fact that he can repent and attain a higher level than ours, for “In the place that those who have repented stand, consummate tzaddikim do not stand”[9] – then we become small in our eyes as compared to him. This is a segulah (spiritual amplifier) for the attribute of lowliness.

This class was given in memory of the great ba’al teshuva, Rabbi Uri Zohar, of righteous and blessed memory.


[1] See Rabbi Ginsburgh’s book, Mivchar Shiurei Hitbonenut II p243, Sichat Parashat B’ha’alotcha 5741 and more.

[2] Sanhedrin 107b (in the uncensored versions).

[3] See the commentaries of the Rambam, Rabbeinu Yonah, Rabbi Ovadiah of Bartenura and more.

[4] Deuteronomy 30:14.

[5] Tanya ch. 25.

[6] Yoma 86b.

[7] Mikdash Melech on the Zohar Part 1:17b, in the name of the Arizal. Brought in Likutei Torah Korach54:3.

[8] See Likutei Sichot 6, p.70 and on; Beit Ha’otzar 1:27 and 2:2; L’or Hahalacha in the article “L’shitot Beit Shamai v’beit Hillel.”

[9] Brachot 34:2.

Related posts

Careful! Look out for Amalek!

Gal Einai

The Tenth of Tevet: Waking up from the Nightmare

Gal Einai

Rabbi Naftali Tzvi of Ropschitz: Messianic Holy Humor and the Intercepted Midnight Prayer

Gal Einai
Verified by MonsterInsights