Judaism: Justice in the Courts vs. Justice in the Torah
“To David: since the Lord is my light and my salvation, who shall I fear? Hashem is the strength of my life, so who should I be afraid of?. ..If a enemy were to besiege me, my heart would not be frightened; if war comes, I trust in the Lord (because) I have only asked Hashem for one thing: to dwell in the house of Hashem all the days of my life… Because He will safeguard me in His shelter on the day of Evil (Psalms 27; 1-5)”.
“ Zion will be redeemed with Justice( mishpat) (Isaiah 1;27)”.
Every year, Parshat Shoftim (Judges) is read during the first week of the Hebrew month of Elul. As I’ve written before (“Nothing to Fear But..”, Sep. 8,2005), this Torah reading was chosen so that we usher in the New Year and its days of Judgment, by being reminded of the important things in life, the things we should be fearing.
As I noted then, these important things include אחת, King David’s “one thing”. Rav Zev Leff sees this word as an acronym: א stands for ארץ ישראל, the Land of Israel; ח for חיי העולם הבא, one’s portion in the World to Come; and ת stands for תורה , Torah. These are the important things that should occupy a Jew’s thoughts in the month leading up to Yom Hadin, Rosh Hashana, which is the day of Judgment.
More than the rest, it’s Eretz Yisrael and Zion that are the focus of this week’s Torah reading. This Parsha deals with Judges, the Sanhedrin, which not coincidentally sits in the Temple. These Shoftim are capable of reaching Truth in Justice, something no other court is capable of This is because the Sanhedrin sits next to the Foundation Stone of Creation, the Even Ha’Shtiya, which lies in the Holy of Holies, and supports the Ark with its Torah inside.
As long as those justices of the Sanhedrin sit in the presence of G-d’s Shechina, they arrive at Truth and become” partners in (what that Stone symbolizes,) Creation” (Talmud Shabbos, 10a) , a level far above a secular judge’s fairness, social responsibility, and human ethic. This is why only the Sanhedrin in that place(המקום ) could judge capital cases, and trust the witnesses who testify against Edim Zommim, false witnesses in capital cases, in order to put the liars to death.
Eretz Yisrael has been the center-point of all the Parshiyot that we’ve read since the Jews left Egypt in the Book of Exodus and made their journey through the Desert to that Holy Land. The crucial story was that of the Spies, the Meraglim, which derailed Israel’s trip. That story is so vital to understanding their failure, and ours today, that it was repeated twice in the Torah: in Numbers chapters 13 and 14, and in Moshe Rabbeinu’s opening words of summary in Devarim Chapter 1.
The Lubavicher Rebbe gives the simple pshat (meaning) in his Sichot: Jews found it more comfortable to stay in the desert of the Diaspora, learning Torah and being fed Manna, with free water from Miriam’s well and clothes that never wore out. They didn’t want the responsibilities of nationhood that we find detailed in our Parsha: King, Army, wars, conquering the Holy Land and ruling it. If this error sounds like a segment of our modern Israeli society, let them wear that black hat of irresponsibility. If somebody doesn’t want to work and would rather learn Torah ( our ת), that shows a high level of trust in G-d; but not at the expense of letting the next guy put his life on the line in the IDF till age 45.
There is a deeper pshat, though, that of Rashi. Rashi explains the classical connection between the Meraglim, the spies, and Lashon hara, slander( literally the” Speech of Evil”)in this way: Do not walk around tattling tales among the nation: this רכל is linguistically linked to רגל, as the letters כ and ג are interchangeable (“merachel” , talebearer = “meragel”,spy; Vayikra 19:16).
After being told that the punishment for their evil talk is that they will not enter the Land, the Jews (Ha’maapilim) insist on attacking the Amalekites and Canaanites, and are soundly routed (Numbers 14;40-45). The meaning is that baalei Lashon Hara, these Meraglim, these tale bearing scandal mongers, have no place in the Land of Israel; G-d will not tolerate an Israel which will create a society in the Holy Land based on such a misuse of Speech.
Yet, that is exactly what we have today: a six million strong shtetl, in which slander and gossip-mongering carry the day. Instead of the justice of our Parsha, we are a society of the “chagavim” (locusts, the Kamtza – see Onkelos- of the Churban;Numbers, 1;33) who literally eat each other alive (“eretz ochelet yoshveha”,ibid,verse 32). As proof, here are the following examples:
President Katzav speaks out against the Disengagement. Within a month, his first accuser accuses him of rape, supposedly occurring four years earlier. I don’t know what he did, or did not do, but I am a physician who practiced for years in the States, and there you can’t mount a legal case of rape without a medical “rape kit”. A physician must examine the patient meticulously, in a time-consuming exam that includes a vaginal exam that collects the woman’s secretions to look for sperm. The specimens (which also undergo DNA analysis, and are tested against suspects’ DNA) are worthless if collected after three days.
Yet four years later, our newspapers, radio, TV, politicians and internet outlets all announced that “the Supreme Court has arrived at the Truth” and sent Pres. Moshe Katzav to jail for seven years.
My Dad, z’l, was a lawyer. He told me that, except for charity freebees for the Ark in Chicago, he never got involved with what he labeled “he called me this, I call him thatr”-cases. These were cases involving no proofs, no witnesses, no documents, and no signatures - cases that had no bases, but have become all the rage in the US. That is exactly what convicted Moshe Katzav.
Another point: mass hysteria. There are dozens of documented cases of, starting in the middle ages, of Children Crusaders, post-Black Plague Dancers, even seventeenth century maniacal tulip speculators in Holland, of suggestible people, sometimes millions, who passively follow the crowd, sometimes, to their own, or others’, ruination.
To quote Dr. Beron Roueche (Medical Detectives, vol. 1, page 344): “Collective obsessions…range from the transient tyranny of fad and the eager lockstep of fashion..to the delirium of the My Lai massacre and the frenzy of the race riot and the witch hunt”. I’ll bet our Israeli intelligentsia have read Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible”, with his account of the Salem witch hunts, but they’ve only internalized the tools to go hang a few more victims of their “locustry”.
Now, we have this Parsha, Shoftim, and the verdict that contrasts all it teaches, on Rav Motti Alon. Again, I have no idea what happened, but neither does any one of our six million Meraglim (except for two Israelis, the Rav and, again, Aleph). Instead of arriving at a verdict based on any sort of evidence, we have a judge who can say with a straight face: “The witness is credible in my eye; his testimony is logical. Difficulties raised by the defense counsel do not lead to reasonable doubt…other complaints bore similarities to the testimony of Aleph”.
Forget even the American principle of “innocent until proven guilty”; we have "he said vs. he said", and I,the “judge”, chose to believe the younger of the two. Not quite “Emet la’amito”( truth).
Could sixty million Frenchmen be wrong (an old advertisement for the allure of a certain French perfume)? Of course, says Avraham ha’Ivri (the Patriarch Abraham), the man who stood alone on the other side of a river whose one bank had only idolatry.
I can only finish with the words of a master, Rav Matis Weinberg, who, as usual, says it best:
“Approaching justice through considerations of circumstantial evidence, hearsay, moral theorizing, ethical feelings, social patches, political leanings, or even principles base on precedent and self-evident truths is virtual idolatry (an Asheira planted next to the Sanhedrin’s site in the Temple; our Parsha,Devarim 16;21) – what is idolatry, after all, but the replacement of fundamental being (as epitomized by the Even Shtiya in the Temple) with secondary accident and contingency.
"True Justice is an act of Creation, just as Creation is an act of Justice (Shabbat 10a)”.