Judicial reform then and now
At Friday night dinners last week, Jewish Israelis, and Jewish people around the world, may have been discussing the judicial reform of Yariv Levin and R Aryeh Deri, or, lehavdil, they may have been discussing the judicial reform of Moshe Rabbeinu and his father-in-law Yitro.
The Torah is our life and the length of our days. As we remind ourselves in birkat HaTorah, Hashem in His infinite wisdom continues giving us the Torah every day so we may learn and improve in our service to Him and in our historical mission to bring light into the world. It can be therefore no coincidence that at this perhaps pivotal time for His people, Hashem too would want to weigh in on this topic.
With humility, here are some of the teachings I picked up from reading the parsha (where applicable, in the name of the great teachers who taught them, and accepting any errors as my own):
- Judicial reform is necessary: Even when the judicial framework has been put in place by someone as peerless as Moshe Rabbeinu, reform is required. How much more so when it comes from anyone else.
- Form is even more important than content: While the chronology of the narrative is deeply disputed, the Torah sees fit to present issues of judicial structure before the giving of the laws.
- Critics must prequalify: For a voice to count, they must have first cast their lot completely with the Jewish people and rejected the idols of the age.
- Legitimate rebuke must be accepted: Moshe Rabbeinu had the halakhic status of a king, and yet he had the humility to accept advice from an outsider.
- Concentration of power is unsustainable: Distribution of power is necessary for the Jewish people “to come upon their place in peace”.
- The centrality of consent: Hashem required and received consent from all the people, not just some, as a precondition to Mattan Torah.
- The integrity of the Jewish people always comes first: Otherwise, says Hashem, even the holiest of holy events must be delayed. After having to be told this twice, Moshe gets the message, goes down to warn the people again and learns his lesson for next time, shattering the Tablets of Law, which the same Law, in the eulogy of its final verse, paradoxically testifies to be his finest achievement.
- There is a right and wrong kind of Jewish leadership: As we see deepening divisiveness, louder lashon hara, and increasing arrogance encroach our public space with every passing year, some of it, we must admit, coming in our name as religious and traditional people, however righteous our cause, do we really have the right leaders to take us along this perilous path – men of achievement, perhaps, but do they truly fear G-d, love truth, and hate money?
- Imposition is ineffective: Even after Yetziat Mitzrayim and Kriyat Yam Suf, even after manna from heaven and the victory over Amalek, even when the blind could suddenly see and the deaf could suddenly hear, even when coming from Hashem Himself with 22,000 angels at his side, this ‘awakening from above’ did not inspire the people to ascend the mountain. In fact, we are told twice, they “remained afar”.
If we can only wait another week, Hashem will give us a better way. “Build Me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them”. The people contributed with such bountiful generosity they had to be told to stop. They did not remain afar. Instead, “all the people saw, sang praises, and fell upon their faces”.