Food For the Soul
Can you be objective?
The Torah portion of Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9) includes a prohibition for judges against taking bribes. The Torah then explains the reason for this commandment: “For bribery blinds the eyes of the wise.”
Now, you’re probably thinking, “No kidding, that’s the definition of a bribe! What kind of reason is that?” Good point. But, actually, the Torah is not trying to explain what’s wrong with paying off a judge; it’s obvious that corrupting fair judgment is immoral. Rather, the Torah seeks to clarify a fact. Often, people say, “I can be objective in this case, despite my connection to it.” Recognizing the difficulty of proper judgment when personal concerns are involved, we may nonetheless convince ourselves that we are immune to bribery, intellectually and emotionally capable of separating fact from feeling.
Yet the Torah cautions us that the danger of bribery is not merely a possibility, nor even a probability. It is an automatic effect. Bribery—monetary or otherwise—skews one’s perception, literally “blinding” him to reality. No one is immune.
We are all judges, all of the time. There are important decisions to be made constantly, and these require clear thinking and examination of facts. But often, we may be swayed by bribes—personal concerns, interests and feelings. We may have the best of intentions, yet the possibility of a purely objective decision is technically out of our reach, “for bribery blinds the eyes of the wise.”
For this reason, it is crucial that every one of us have a mentor, an objective individual upon whom we rely to help us make decisions. Before signing on the dotted line, run it by someone out of the picture. It’s a sort of reality check, a way to make sure that we are aiming towards the target, rather than adjusting the goal to suit us.
From an article by Rabbi Mendy Wolf
Ethics of the Fathers, Chapter 6
This Shabbat we read Ethics of The Fathers (Perkei Avot), Chapter 6: One of its passages states: Rabbi Meir would say: Whoever studies Torah for Torah’s sake alone, merits many things; not only that, but [the creation of] the entire world is worthwhile for him alone. He is called friend, beloved, lover of G-d, lover of humanity, rejoicer of G-d, rejoicer of humanity. The Torah enclothes him with humility and awe; makes him fit to be righteous, pious, correct and faithful; distances him from sin and brings him close to merit. From him, people enjoy counsel and wisdom, understanding and power, as is stated (Proverbs 8:14) “Mine are counsel and wisdom, I am understanding, mine is power.” The Torah grants him sovereignty, dominion, and jurisprudence. The Torah’s secrets are revealed to him, and he becomes as an ever-increasing wellspring and as an unceasing river. He becomes modest, patient and forgiving of insults. The Torah uplifts him and makes him greater than all creations.
Mind Over Matter
G-d knows you can be a good parent
We must raise G-d’s children as He would. Presumably G-d wouldn’t just give His children life; He would also give them love. And He would give them moral direction so they could be worthy custodians of His world. G-d drafted us for the task. Our job is not only to love our children, but also to teach them. To guide, mentor and direct, showing them right from wrong. Don’t be bashful and don’t feel insecure. It is true that you had no experience when you first started out. But you know you will succeed because G-d gave you His vote of confidence. If He didn’t think you could do it, He would have found a different custodian for His child. But He chose you. It takes time, work, patience and sleepless nights, but in the end, G-d knows you can be a good parent.
From an article by Rabbi Lazer Gurkow
Counsellors, not officers
Of the era of the redemption it is said: “I shall restore your judges as at first, and your counselors as at the beginning” (Isaiah 1:26). This verse mentions “judges” but not “officers.” Instead of “officers” there will be “counselors.” The task of the counselors is to explain and clarify to litigants the words and decisions of the judge so that they will understand and realize how those decisions are in the peoples’ best interest and for their own benefit. Thus the people themselves will want to follow the court’s judgments. It follows, then, that in the Messianic era there will no longer be a need for officers to enforce the law, for all shall willingly live up to their obligations. In fact, even before the actual redemption, in the present era when everything is already ready for the redemption, we no longer need “officers” forcing us to carry out our duties and obligations. Even now all is ready to carry out the word of the “judge” willingly and voluntarily.
Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
Have I Got A Story
What you don’t know
I had popped into a Jerusalem synagogue for minchah (afternoon prayers). A few rows in front of me there was this man, sitting with his four kids. The fellow in front of him had his arm over the back of the bench, and the fellow behind him was also disturbing him in some way. He kept snapping at his kids. What a jerk, I thought to myself. Ok, you’re nervous, you’re rude, that’s fine, there are lots of nervous and rude people in these stress-ridden times, but does the whole world have to know it? I’m really a live-and-let-live kind of guy, but this fellow was impossible to ignore. His ill-will and discontent filled the room. Yes, I thought, your kids are a rowdy bunch, but do you have to yell at them all the time? Why don’t you leave them home if they get on your nerves so much?
At the conclusion of the service, his four kids—the twelve-year old, the nine-year old, the eight-year old and the six-year old—stood in a row and recited the mourner’s kaddish. What a jerk, I muttered—meaning myself of course—my face hot with shame.
Since there’s so much that we’ll never know about another person, any attempt to pass judgement on him or her seems doomed to failure. In the words of the Talmud, “Do not judge your fellow until you have reached his place.” What the Talmud is really saying, I suspect, is, “Don’t judge your fellow, ever,” since “his place” is a place where you can never truly be. The problem, however, is that there are times and circumstances in which we have to judge others, or at least appoint people to do the job for us. We call these people “judges,” and without them, no society could function.
Indeed, the Torah instructs, “Judges and officers you shall appoint in all your [city] gates.” But the Torah also sets down numerous rules and regulations which delimit the judge’s power to judge, and ensure that when he does judge, he does so with utmost caution and sensitivity.
A case in point is the law of the “indefensible criminal.” This is how it works: Under Torah law, capital crimes are tried by a tribunal of 23 judges called a “Minor Sanhedrin.” After hearing the testimony of the witnesses, the judges themselves would split into two groups: those inclined to argue for the acquittal of the accused would serve as his “defense team” and seek to convince their colleagues of his innocence; those inclined to convict would make the case for his guilt. Then the judges would vote. A majority of one was sufficient to exonerate, while a majority of two was necessary to convict.
But what if all twenty-three judges form an initial opinion of guilt? What if the evidence is so compelling and the crime so heinous that not a single member of the tribunal chooses to argue in the accused’s favor? In such a case, says Torah law, the accused cannot be convicted and must be exonerated by the court.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains the rationale behind this law as follows: No man is so utterly evil that there is nothing to be said in his defense. There is always some explanation, some justification, some perspective from which the underlying goodness of his soul can be glimpsed. This does not mean that he is going to be found innocent, in the legal sense, by a court of law: at times the “mitigating circumstances” result in a verdict of acquittal; at times, they do not. But if not a single member of the court perceives the “innocent side” of the person standing accused before them, this is a court that obviously has very little understanding of who he is and what he has done. Such a court has disqualified itself from passing judgement on him. But that’s a lesson for judges. The rest of us have neither need or cause to pass judgement on anyone. Which is fortunate, because there’s so much that we don’t know.
Rabbi Yanki Tauber