Dear SHA Community,
An extended thought on Perashat Mishpatim for this short week of school:
Source in the Verses
Parashat Mishpatim emphasizes the importance of maintaining a judicial system rooted in integrity. The Torah records four necessary qualities of a judge: accomplished, G-d-fearing, committed to truth and money-despising.
Rashi’s Interpretation of the Third Quality of a Judge - Commitment to Truth
Rashi explains that a judge must be trust-worthy. Rashi explains that because people generally rely on these trust-worthy judges to keep their word, they will also listen to the judgments that they render.
Further Explanation - Assembling a Court
The Talmud in Masechet Sanhedrin discusses the procedure for selecting a court when two litigants do not have access to courts of expert judges such as those that existed in the Land of Israel during the time of the Sanhedrin.
The Mishna presents the procedure of zabla – an acronym for ze borer lo echad. According to the position of Rabbi Meir, each litigant chooses one judge to sit on a court and the two litigants then cooperate to select a third judge to sit in judgment with the first two.
The gemara asks why such a convoluted process is necessary – wouldn’t it be easier for the two parties to come to a consensus about which court to use to hear the case?
The gemara explains that by constructing the court through the zabla procedure – each litigant first choosing a judge – truth will be achieved. Rashi explains that each litigant will believe that the judge that he chose represented his claim as completely as possible. Therefore the litigant will be more likely to comply with the court’s ruling even if he is found guilty.
Conclusion - The Torah’s Emphasis on Justice
Correct judgments are insufficient. When judges make rulings and nobody listens, justice is hollow. When courts issue decisions and litigants complain, justice is eroded. In its aim to create a just society, the Torah exhorts judges to be trust-worthy. Trust-worthiness will lead to compliance and when society listens to the decisions of judges, society is more just overall.
Adults - parents, teachers, bosses - regularly make edicts, rules and decisions. How do we motivate compliance in the people who these edicts, rules and decisions apply to? The Torah teaches that our own behavior is critically important in this regard. When we are trust-worthy, those who look to us for authority will be more likely to follow our guidance.