Believe Me

and he credited it to him as righteousness.
— Genesis 15:7

There are a lot of clichés and catch-all expressions floating in this depressing and bellicose presidential election. My least favorite is "Believe me." Believe me, I'm tired of believe me. In general, if someone says "Believe me" (especially if it is repeated for effect), "Trust me," or "I am a good person," I am automatically suspect. Good people do not advertise. Trustworthy people generate credibility with deeds rather than words. Believability takes time to establish. You need a lot of deposits in a trust account to secure a relationship built with confidence.
And yet, believability is foundational to our entire Jewish life. Faith - emmuna - requires suspension of the rational and a willingness to step into the unknown to achieve transcendence. We find this embodied very early on in biblical history. Abraham, who wrestled with the command to build a nation when his wife was barren, contemplated various solutions, from adopting his nephew or his house-servant, to surrogacy. After rejecting the first two proposed solutions, God took Abraham outside to show him the countless stars that would one day become his offspring. That takes faith.
It was a vision unseen of an incomprehensible future but this did not deter Abraham, as we read in Genesis: "'Look up at the sky and count the stars, if indeed you can count shall your offspring be.' Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness." [Gen. 15:5-7] Who credited whom? Abraham believed despite all odds, and God considered him righteous. Or perhaps because Abraham believed God, he deemed God righteous and was willing to bank on this shared dream. Either way, emmuna - belief - involves risk.
So if we are supposed to believe and take risks for our beliefs, why be suspect of a person who says believe me? Our suspicion reflects a long-standing Jewish tradition of establishing credibility, referred to in rabbinic literature as ne'emmanut. For example, in most instances of Jewish law, one witness to an event is not sufficient. Trust but verify is our motto in Jewish courts. If a person who does not keep kosher but says that he or she will prepare you a kosher meal, according to Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, we do not believe him. [Igrot Moshe YD I:54]. This is not because this person is not trustworthy; he may merely have a different notion of what kosher is. We trust his good will; we are suspect only that he may not share the same standards.
If a person begging asks you for food, you should give him food without question. But if a person asks you for clothing, we research whether or not there is real need or if it's a sham request. [Shulkhan Arukh, Yoreh De'ah 251:10] Here, an important distinction exists between immediate and urgent care, represented by hunger, and longer-term needs, like the purchase of clothing, that can be more costly. Our assumption - and it is written into our DNA in Jewish law- is that if you are an MOT, you are a compassionate person. As such, we do not want your generosity exploited by others who take advantage of your kindness. When a person is hungry, we believe him. When he's looking for a wardrobe, however, we are more suspect.
"Trust," writes Stephen M.R. Covey in The Speed of Trust: The One Thing that Changes Everything, "is equal parts character and competence... You can look at any leadership failure, and it's always a failure of one or the other." So when someone says believe me, we look away from the words and examine the record. "A person has integrity," Covey writes, "when there is no gap between intent and behavior..." Most importantly, Covey leaves us with something to ponder when we want the trust of others: "In a high-trust relationship, you can say the wrong thing, and people will still get your meaning. In a low-trust relationship, you can be very measured, even precise, and they'll still misinterpret you." 
Shabbat Shalom