I (Won’t) Be the Judge of That

“Do not show favoritism in judgment; small and big alike shall you hear, for judgment belongs to the L-rd…” (Deut. 1:17)

Moshe here exhorts Rabbinical judges to follow the guidelines laid out for them in the Torah.  Though they might feel that their own input would enhance the case, they are wrong.  It is not for us to manipulate the laws and jurisprudence to force a particular outcome because, as the Torah tells us, judgment belongs to HaShem.

What this means on a simplistic level is that the judges are supposed to realize that what they see may not be all the pertinent evidence.  While a judge cannot take into account anything but that which his eyes see – the evidence which has been presented – G-d has the ability to take into account every aspect of the truth: guilt, innocence, intent, benefit, loss, cause, effect, and more, and come out with the proper verdict.

HaShem built the mechanism for reaching that truth into the Torah. The basic message is that we should follow the Torah and through doing so we will come to the absolute truth, even when that truth is beyond our human ken.  Judgment is HaShem’s and we should not believe we can improve upon it by incorporating our feelings or perceptions into a modified version of the Halacha.  All that would do is pervert justice, not improve it, just as when the spies declared that we would not, in their opinion, be able to capture Canaan.

There is another message here as well.  The Ramban writes that the judges are the messengers of G-d to convey His judgment to the people.  When judges “follow their hearts” and try to help the poor man or honor the wealthy pillar of the community, they are violating their authority and abandoning their mission.  They miss the truth that they are merely agents of HaShem and thus ruin the opportunity to be loyal representatives of G-d.  Their job is to carry out G-d’s justice, not their own.

Rashi comments that, “judgment belongs to the L-rd,” means that if judges pervert the ruling, HaShem, Himself, will have to straighten things out and, for example, return the money to its rightful owner.  By judging not in accordance with the Torah, these judges are giving G-d more work, and He doesn’t appreciate it.

Thinking we can make justice more just, or truth “truthier,” is a dangerous misconception.  What HaShem wants from us is to carry out His will and have a share in the implementation thereof.  If we fail, He will do it on His own so we gain nothing by changing the law.  If we incorrectly give money to one person today, G-d will find ways to take it away from him tomorrow and return it to the first fellow.

This realization that the only power our actions have is to reflect how devoted we are to HaShem should help keep us on the straight and narrow.  By recognizing that there is no gain in defying HaShem, we will focus on working loyally for Him and becoming partners in His acts, thereby fulfilling our obligations and earning our proper reward.

==The Story of the Moral==

“I have a surprise for you,” said the man’s wife. “I made your mother’s chocolate nut cake for dessert!” The man looked forward to the treat but after one bite he pushed away the plate with a barely-disguised grimace.

“Well, if you don’t like it, don’t blame me,” said the woman testily. “It’s your mother’s recipe.”

“Um… This doesn’t taste like hers,” he replied. “Are you sure you didn’t change anything?”

“Well,” she answered, “I didn’t have four egg whites, so I just used two whole eggs. And I don’t like slivered almonds so I used peanuts. Instead of applesauce, I substituted stewed prunes which I think are healthier. Otherwise it’s exactly your mother’s recipe!”

Is it any wonder that with those changes it was a recipe for disaster?


About the Author
Growing up a rabbi's son, Jonathan Gewirtz moved around and met people from all walks of life. A columnist and speechwriter, he draws on his experiences for his writing. As the scion of a Rabbinic family, he is passionate about the power of words and the greatness inherent in each of us.
Related Topics
Related Posts