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The Gemoro Shabbos 127b brings three stories illustrating the principle,

הדן חבירו לכף זכות דנין אותו לזכות

“He who judges his neighbour in the scale of merit is himself judged favourably.”

The stories show how one person (Reuven) took certain actions which could be interpreted well or badly by another (Shimon). Shimon, despite his personal disadvantage, interpreted the actions in a positive light. Reuven blessed Shimon that just as Shimon judged him favourably, so G-d should judge Shimon favourably.

The problem is that in the stories, Shimon did not know the truth and made a decision that Reuven had acted well. When G-d judges, He knows all the truth, so how can it be that He can judge Shimon favourably?

  • If Hashem doesn't assess lekaf zekhus, because as you note there is no wiggle room when the Judge knows all the facts. However, He still sentences lekaf zekhus, giving us opportunities for teshuvah and improvement He Knows (because He Knows our futures) we won't take, rather than throwing the book at us right away. Thinking about it, this is what @mevaqesh was saying. No? – Micha Berger Dec 10 '17 at 15:32
  • @MichaBerger Maybe, but I don't think that was my point exactly. I was saying that God can rule in favour of someone, for whatever reason, including factors besides for the case at hand, and that would be דן לזכות. For example, if someone wore shatnez, God might rule favouraby, for some reason other than the case at hand. There might be no mitigating component in the case of the shatnez, but God might still rule leniently for some external reason, e.g. (as in our case) because the subject had previously exhibited a proper midda such as judging other favourably. – mevaqesh Dec 10 '17 at 15:41
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One simple answer is that there is a difference between לכף זכות, and דנין אותו לזכות. danin לכף זכות alludes to a scale of justice tilting uncertainly (cf. Bertenura to Avot 1:6). One should judge favourably in cases of uncertainty. דנין לזכות, however, need not mean that God is uncertain, and rules favourably. Rather it can simply mean, that God rules favourably for whatever reason (including, in our case, the mitigating factor of the subject's own favourable evaluation of others). The term זכות, after all just means benefit, as for example in the expression זכין לאדם שלא בפניו (Eruvin 7:11). Accordingly, דנין אותו לזכות, could just mean to render a beneficial ruling about the person.

This is stated explicitly by the Meiri in Chibur Hateshuva (Meishiv Nefesh 1:4 pp. 90-1 in ed. Mirsky) who writes:

וכן תמצא ר' יהושע ע"ה העידו עליו ואמרו ז"ל (שבת קכז)... אמר להם העבודה כך היה ואתם שדנתוני לזכות המקום ידין אתכם לזכות כלומר...יגמלכם הגומל כפי הראוי לכם והוא אמרו המקום ידין אתכם לזכות ולא אמר לכף זכות כי לא יתכן העלמות ענין אצלו ית' ‏

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I heard the following in a shiur from Rabbi Rosner, quoting Reb Yisroel Salanter ztz”l.

“After 120 years” a person will come to their judgement in heaven. The person will be shown their life in such a way as the occurrences will be theirs but they will not be able to recognise themselves or the other people depicted.

On each decision point, the person will be asked to judge whether he acted rightly or otherwise. His judgements will form the Divine judgement on that person. Thus, if they accustomed themself to judge “lekaf zechus”, their judgement will be “lekaf zechus”!

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  • This is a cute derash, but as noted by the Sfat Emet, it is clear from the context of the Talmud that it is God (המקום) who judges. This is explicit in the Shiltot's version of the Talmud, but clear from ours as well. – mevaqesh Dec 18 '17 at 3:44
  • "His judgments will form the Divine judgment on that person" - where does this come from? – Al Berko Oct 19 '19 at 18:32
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Your good question tries to question the very basis of the days of repentance and Yom Kippur, which is "influencing G-d (and/or Heavenly court) to skew the final verdict". We keep saying "don't look at that", "don't judge that", "skip over the first sin, and then again", etc.

THe whole aforementioned concept is rooted in the Gemmorah that you cite, which follows the idea of anthropomorphic (human-like) G-d against the concept of omniscient, deterministic G-d that Rambam describes in Yesodot Hatora - G-d that has no change and can't be changed and that you try to compare to in your question.

(Personally I believe the two are incompatible and that's the reason for Ashkenazi Rabbis burning Rambam's books), but trying to reconcile the two in Rambam's eyes I could say, that the saying is purely motivational - you're motivated to think positively about others' intentions and imaging (even wrongfully) that G-d might change His judgment about you.

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