CREDOS : Scale of merit — I

Marc Ian Barasch

The great Jewish mystic, the Rabbi of Berditchev, was known throughout 19th century Europe as the Master of the Good Eye. It was said that he could see nothing of people’s sins, only their virtues. He’d roust the local drunk from his stupor on high holy day, seat him at the head of the table, and respectfully ask for his wisdom. He’d noodge a man who’d publicly flouted the Sabbath by praising him as the only one in the village who wasn’t a hypocrite. He extended his caring to all, whether powerful or impoverished, scholarly or simple, righteous or reprobate.

The Rabbi’s inspiration was a Talmud passage that calls for eveyone to be weighted “on the scales of merit” (zechut, from the Hebrew zach or purity). The meaning of zechut, explains one scholar, is to “intentionally focus on what is most pure in each person — to see their highest and holiest potential.” It is a reminder that compassion is not just a gift, but a path. The Good Eye is a shift of perception, a transformative art that takes some practice.

The 16th century Tibetan meditation master Wan-gchuk Dorje recommended a practice he called “the Activity of Being in Crowds.” Walking through a throng, he said, is “a good opportunity to check your progress and examine the delusions, attachments, and aversions that arise.” I find the bustle of a mall an especially good place to check my Good Eye for jaundice. It’s not just the plenitude of people, but of everything under that fluorescent sun that pushes our buttons. —