Divine Wisdom

There is a story brought in the book, Kuzari, by Rabbi Yehuda Halevi, where he describes a meeting between the great Greek philosopher, Plato, and the Prophet Jeremiah. The story alleges that Plato made the journey to Jerusalem to meet the great Jewish leader. While some may question if Plato and Jeremiah actually lived at the same time, the message of the story is clear.

Plato finds Jeremiah weeping over the ruins of the First Temple and asks Jeremiah two questions. He first asks why he weeps over a building of wood and stones and further asks why he weeps over something that cannot be changed. As is typical of all Jews, Jeremiah asks Plato if there were any philosophical questions that even he was unable to answer. He answered a question with a question.

Plato begins asking Jeremiah about several issues that had been bothering him, and Jeremiah answered each of Plato questions effortlessly as if they were asked by a small child. Jeremiah then explained why he wept. He told the Greek scholar that there was a certain Divine wisdom that came from Heaven through the Temple Menorah and it gave Jews like him a wisdom that was reserved for Jewish scholars. This was the reason why he was so sad. And this building that was destroyed, would once again be rebuilt.

There are several commentaries on the Torah that speak of the requirement to be a judge in Israel. Two classic works, the Minchat Chinuch and the Alschich Hakadosh explain that one who does not possess this Divine wisdom must not judge. It may be that he is a fine person of the highest character, but in terms of being able to properly analyze a specific case, without this wisdom, he is likely to error in his decision.

If one has met a true Torah scholar who has spent numerous years steeped in his studies, he is likely to understand what it takes to be a good candidate to judge. He is able to connect not only to G-d, but to other great rabbis of the past and gain an understanding of that which is right in the eyes of G-d.

This is the essence as to why many religious Jews are not satisfied with the Israeli judicial system. It is based on the value system of specific judges that often does not coincide with Torah principles. The crux of the problem stems from the fact that different people have different value systems. It is based on relative truths. This means that what is true for one person may not be true for another.

A case in point would be how we handle terrorists that use children as human shields. The value system held by many is that it’s unfortunate that this is done, but how can we hurt a child. There is no doubt that legitimate Torah scholars would disagree with this and would contend that protecting our own people comes first even if it means harming the human shield.

There is a certain value system of our modern, sophisticated world. It often does not coincide with real Torah values. It should be noted that this value system of justice is not succeeding as the morality of the world continues to decline.

Perhaps we can learn a lesson from that encounter between Plato and Jeremiah. If we were to seriously study the Book that was meant to teach true morality to the world, we are likely to raise the level of consciousness of what is right and wrong. And in the process, if we set different criteria as to what it takes to be a judge, we might see real justice. It’s right there for us to delve into; the intense wisdom of the Sages and G-d Himself. Why shouldn’t we go back and fulfill the role we accepted at Mount Sinai, to be a “light unto the nations” of truth and justice and teach the world all that is good and proper in the eyes of G-d.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for more than twenty years. He has been teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach, Old Katamon, Jerusalem, for the nearly seventeen years. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles.