While he interlaces encouragement and positive words within each chapter, some also contain dire warnings and stern rebuke. Nonetheless, he never leaves us without reassurance, encouragement, and hope.
Rav Papo maintained a firm belief in our power to rise above our addictions, bad habits, false beliefs, and our yetzer hara in any form.
Affirming Our Innate Goodness & Ability
"And behold, God stands over him [as a Protector]; He will be with him in assistance because one who comes to purify himself earns Heavenly assistance."
"The voice of fools in rebuke 'they are a vanity, an act of delusion' [Yirmiyahu 10:15] to those who hear them, confusing them and confounding them. But the words of the wise which are heard in pleasantness are sweet and accepted by their listeners."
"To you, gentlemen, I call: Brothers and friends, I'm very pained on your behalf, on behalf of this sin that is to your detriment and the evil that stands before you, chas v'shalom. And even more than that, how great is my pain on behalf of the pain of our Father in Heaven who waits to bestow favor upon us...and please, exchange bad for good! Gather in the place of a Torah scholar or a learned person to hear learning...and acquire paths of life and lofty attributes."
"With his heart, he will understand and with his ears, he will hear, and as he shall repent, Hashem will heal him."
Rav Papo ends General Principles: Part I/Klalot Alef with:
"All that is in his power to accomplish, he should do and all that a man desires, he should do. Only the beginning will be difficult. And in doing so, a person will become desirable and Hashem will be for him as a shelter. And a vision of the Almighty he shall see.
And this is enough for whoever possesses a good heart."
"...only the beginnings are difficult because afterwards, it will be sweet for him and it shall be as a delightful fragrance for him, and worthy of blessing and contentment is he in This World and it's good for him in the World to Come."
Yes, sinning is terrible and Gehinnom is just awful -- but if you just try your best to do the right thing, then God will help you out, He'll stand by your side all the way, and things will ultimately end up wonderfully!
Judging Wonky Jews Favorably
"Come and see how the enemy [yetzer hara] has overpowered people so much so that when brothers sit together, and they have nothing new to say, one starts saying, 'The cold today is good, the heat today is good, the rain is good, the snow is good,' and such things that are obvious to all -- simply because their yetzer agitates within them and they're embarrassed to sit in silence."
(Then Rav Papo explains how to get up and fight the yetzer hara.)
You can just imagine what Rav Papo has to say in his chapter on Illicit Acts/Znut, but even after he mentions some pretty reprehensible acts, he never stops judging favorably:
"And this comes from a lack of awareness of the great severity of the act, or due to bad friends who trick them into it..."
"Woe to it, to a generation that such a thing has risen in its days, that there are large cities in in the cities of Edom [Europe] that host hundreds of thousands of Jews and the Torah is forgotten from among them, and they only conduct cases in the jurisdiction of non-Jews and it's done as if permissible -- May God Who is Good atone for them."
Bringing It All Home
- It's essential it is to find merits and judge favorably even as you're discussing what's wrong with society or as you're attempting to correct someone's behavior.
- It's important to always end on a note of hope and sincere belief in the person's innate goodness and ability to improve and do teshuvah.
I think it's also a guide for when hearing rebuke from others, to know what level the critic is really on and where their criticism is really coming from. If they can't see the good in you, if they can't see that you're not evil or stupid but just stuck or uninformed, if they don't believe that you have the ability to change for the better, well, then...you sure aren't hearing rebuke from a tzaddik.
Rav Eliezer Papo willing underwent a prolonged and agonizing death for his community, then left a legacy to assist and encourage us forevermore.
We can trust that his attitude and approach are the real deal.